Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ukraine On A Perilous Edge

KIEV, Ukraine -- Seven years ago, Ukraine's Orange Revolution inspired hope that the country was moving toward genuine democracy.

Yulia Tymoshenko

Since then, democratic freedoms have been curtailed, the former prime minister and co-leader of the revolution, Yulia Tymoshenko, has been imprisoned, and President Viktor Yanukovych's regime has become internationally isolated. Ukraine is unraveling.

Today, a small group of oligarchs clustered around Yanukovych has captured power.

They manipulate elections, control the media and are shaping the country's institutions to further their own business interests.

Condemnation by the West has had no impact.

Whatever one thinks of Tymoshenko, she was not imprisoned for any ostensible crimes she committed while in power.

She is in prison because she lost that power. This sets a dangerous precedent, for it creates a powerful incentive — winner takes all, loser goes to prison — for ruthlessness.

It is difficult to predict how Tymoshenko's case will play out — whether Yanukovych will succumb to pressure from the European Union and the United States to release her, or to the forces that want to exclude her from politics forever.

Until recently, Ukrainian leaders were accustomed to more efficient means than prison for dealing with inconvenient opponents.

In 2000, for example, journalist Heorhiy Gongadze was kidnapped and beheaded after publishing online reports about high-level government corruption.

Perhaps Tymoshenko did not understand how sharply her country had turned away from democratic norms when she mocked Yanukovych and her opponents during her trial.

Indeed, her first brief imprisonment in 2001 furnished her with political capital and pushed her into the democratic opposition's front ranks.

Perhaps Yanukovych himself did not foresee the consequences of Tymoshenko's arrest, trial and imprisonment.

Some Ukrainian conspiracy theorists maintain that Yanukovych was tricked by skillfully prepared misinformation provided by the officials around him.

With every month that Tymoshenko spends in jail, her martyrdom grows, making it harder for Yanukovych to free her.

Yanukovych has become hostage to a situation that he created — and thus has done nothing to extricate himself from it.

In 2003, then-Russian President Vladimir Putin put himself in an analogous bind with the arrest of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

At the time, Khodorkovsky was the wealthiest man in Russia and an open critic of the government, so his arrest triggered a storm of international protest.

Like Yanukovych, Putin is under pressure from the West to release his opponent, but the political risk is too great.

Yanukovych's goals are unclear.

He does not respond to European pressure, even though Ukraine would gain political leverage from closer EU ties.

Perhaps he simply dislikes the EU because it applauded his defeat in the Orange Revolution, and because he makes embarrassing gaffes whenever he goes there.

Then again, perhaps he has learned from Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko that the EU has little influence over non-EU countries' internal politics.

At the first positive sign from Belarus, the EU forgives and forgets.

Indeed, even without a positive signal from Ukraine, the European Parliament has recommended that negotiations on an association agreement begin.

Generally, Yanukovych's foreign policy appears reactive.

In 2010, for example, he bowed to Putin's pressure to extend the Russian lease on naval facilities in Crimea to 2042, whereas Tymoshenko and others pointed to the treaty's unconstitutionality.

Yanukovych also undermined Ukraine's geopolitical strength vis-a-vis Russia by rejecting NATO's invitation to join in 2010.

Even if the Kremlin is not happy with the planned EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, it has little reason to worry as long as Yanukovych remains a weak president in a divided country.

Ukraine is thus becoming a dangerous mix of authoritarianism and corrupt capitalism.

In Belarus, an impoverished Lukashenko increasingly resorts to brute force to maintain his rule — breaking up peaceful demonstrations, imprisoning political opponents and terrorizing the intelligentsia.

Compared with him, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is a shining example of good government.

But as Yanukovych and his backers are well aware, Berlusconi is gone, and Lukashenko is not.

Source: The Moscow Times

Bio-Attack Fears For England Fans

LONDON, England -- The England squad and thousands of fans travelling to see them in the Euro 2012 football finals are under threat of a terrorist attack, according to intelligence sources.

Thousands of England fans will be travelling to Euro 2012.

The tournament is being jointly hosted in Poland and Ukraine.

The latter’s intelligence agency the SBU – formerly the KGB – has warned of “possible biological terror attacks in Ukraine and especially their threat on the eve of the European Football Champ­ionship 2012”.

The warning, reported by the Ukrainian News Agency, was revealed by a source in Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council which is drawing up preventative measures against ­possible biological strikes involving the plague, cholera and TB.

England are to play all three group stages in the ex-Soviet state in June at Donetsk and the capital Kiev.

A former deputy minister of health and adviser to the council Valerii Ivasyuk said: “The matter concerns ­various bio-terrorist acts – plague, cholera and other possible things.”

He specifically warned about the risk of tuberculosis, which is, in any case, rife in Ukraine and has a “high probability” of infecting fans.

He said the council’s chief Raisa Bohatyriova issued a warning to senior Kiev government ministers saying, “Indeed there are some threats.”

Bohatyriova said: “I feel an urgent need to inform the deputy prime minister Andriy Klyuyev about the high probability of infection of guests of Euro 2012 with resistant forms of TB,” and added that the disease in Ukraine “is on an African scale” with a rise in “incurable” strains.

Officially, 457,000 people in Ukraine suffer from TB but some experts insist the true figure is about a million.

As many as 4,135 people died in 2010 and 3,613 in the first six months of 2011, a significant upward trend.

It is not the first time that the SBU has warned about the threat of terrorist strikes linked to Euro 2012.

The deputy chief of its anti-terrorism centre Volodymyr Orativskyy warned of the magnet of the “massive inflow of participants and fans, the presence of VIPs, especially public officials”.

He said: “Terrorists are attracted to such a great number of potential ‘targets’, easy access, a wide range of options for the perpetration of terror and an opportunity to receive the immediate and widest-­possible publicity.”

He warned of the risk from “radical Islamist organisations” stressing that he has taken advice from the FBI and NATO.

In a rare interview, he said: “There are supporters of ­ter­- rorist and ­religious extremist organisations banned in some countries.

“There is a surge in migration from unstable countries."

"We have hazardous industrial and energy facilities and host diplomatic missions of countries actively involved in counter-terrorism."

“There is also an upsurge in extremism verging on terrorism in Ukraine."

“As we are approaching Euro 2012, new factors may emerge.”

Another government fear is that opposition groups could use the tournament as a focus for protest.

On Friday, former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, leader of the Orange Revolution, was moved from Kiev to a remote jail.

Source: Express UK

Ukraine Gas Transit System Price To Fall Severely In 2012 - Miller

MOSCOW, Russia -- Ukraine's gas transit system that Kiev presently estimates to cost $20 billion may become significantly cheaper, the head of Russia's gas giant, Gazprom, Alexei Miller, said on Saturday.

Alexei Miller

During a meeting on Friday with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Miller said that Ukraine had placed the price of its gas transit system at $20 billion and requested an annual $9-billion cut in the price of gas if Moscow and Kiev created a gas transport consortium.

"I don't exclude that Ukraine's so-called last strategic resource, its gas transit system, will severly fall in price next year," Miller told journalists on Saturday in regard to perspective talks with Ukraine in 2012 on the price of gas.

Miller called Ukraine's going price for the gas transit system "significant" taking into account that much money would be needed to invest in the transit system's modernization.

He said modernization of the system would be 2-8 billion euros ($2.6-$10.4 billion).

Ukraine earlier had set its price for the gas transit system much higher at $150-270 billion.

In June 2011, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who is presently serving a seven-year prison sentence for abuse of power in signing a gas deal with Russia, set the price of the system at $150 billion, and then in September this year said it was worth $270 billion.

Previous to Tymoshenko's statements in court on the price, Ukraine had place the system at $80-120 billion.

Source: RIA Novosti

Ukrainian Intellectuals Outraged By "Sadistic Decision" To Send Tymoshenko To Penal Colony

KIEV, Ukraine -- Representatives of Ukraine's intellectual circles have expressed an outrage at a decision of Kiev Court of Appeals to uphold the prison sentence in gas case for former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and a decision to send her to a penal colony.

Yulia Tymoshenko

In particular, prominent Ukrainian writer Lina Kostenko and her daughter, literary critic Oksana Pakhlevska signed a joint statement by intellectuals about the non-recognition of a decision by the Court of Appeals in Kiev.

"The authorities took a sadistic decision to transfer Yulia Tymoshenko from Lukyanivka detention center to a penal colony, which is even more defiant taking into account the fact that it was done on New Year's eve."

"It looks like they are cynically counting on the fact that people in their pre-holiday worries will forget about a person who knows how to be principled and consistent in saying "no" to the mockery of the state and who has to pay for it today through being sent by Tsarist-Stalinist rule to a penal colony," reads the intellectuals' statement published Friday on the Web site of the Tymoshenko-led Batkivschyna party.

Ukraine's intellectuals said they did not recognize "the unjust decision of Kiev Court of Appeals which is controlled by the current president in the case of Yulia Tymoshenko and hoped that it will soon be overturned by the European Court of Human Rights."

The statement was signed by 23 representatives of the intellectual circles.

Those included social activist, Soviet dissident, Hero of Ukraine Ivan Dziuba, President of the Kiev-Mohyla Academy National University Vyacheslav Briukhovetsky, writers Yuriy Andrukhovych, Roman Ivanichuk, Maria Matios, Yuriy Mushketyk, Dmytro Pavlychko, Vasiyl Shkliar and others.

Source: Interfax

Azerbaijan Buys 95 Missiles From Ukraine

BAKU, Azerbaijan -- Ukraine, which is one of the biggest arms producers in the post-soviet area, exported 2097 various missiles in 2005-2010, APA reports.

According to the report of UN Register of Conventional Arms, Ukraine took the 2nd place after Russia in exporting various missiles and portable anti-aircraft missiles.

Ukraine exported the above-mentioned weapons to 11 countries.

China takes the 1st place in the list with 953 missiles, US is the 2nd (692 missiles).

Russia is the 3rd (100 missiles), Azerbaijan is the 4th (95 missiles), and Algeria is the 5th (76 missiles).

Besides, during the reporting period Ukraine sold 60 various and portable anti-aircraft missiles to Israel, 54 missiles to the United Kingdom, 50 missiles to Kazakhstan, 18 missiles to Belarus, 14 missiles to Italy, 9 to Slovakia.

During the reporting period Ukraine sold 64 R-27 “air-air” missiles, 3 9R129-1M and “Tochka-U” tactical missile complex, 18 9M36-1 “Strela-3” and 10 9P58M “Strela-3” portable anti-aircraft missile system to Azerbaijan.

Source: News Az

Friday, December 30, 2011

Ukraine Asks For $9 Billion Gas Discount From Russia To Form Joint Transit Consortium

NOVO-OGARYOVO, Russia -- Kiev is seeking a $9 billion annual gas discount to reach agreement with Moscow on operating the Ukrainian gas transportation system, Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller said on Friday.

Ukraine pushes for gas price revision with Russia.

At their ongoing gas price talks, Moscow and Kiev have been recently discussing the possibility of creating a joint venture to operate the Ukrainian gas transportation system, a core transit route for Russian natural gas supplies to Europe.

"Our Ukrainian counterparts raised the question of a discount for gas prices during the talks. If we calculate a volume of 40 billion cubic meters, the volume which Ukraine has to buy as part of the terms of the current contract, the discount may be about $9 billion annually," Miller told Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Ukraine has long been seeking to alter the terms of the 2009 gas deal it signed with Russia.

The deal ties the price of gas to oil prices, which have risen strongly since 2009, boosting Ukraine's gas bill. Kiev insists on reducing both the price and the volume of gas imports.

Miller also said Ukraine estimated the value of its gas transportation system at $20 billion.

"Our Ukrainian friends mentioned the that they value their gas transportation system at $20 billion. It is a big sum taking into account that we will have to spend large amounts on its modernization," Gazprom CEO said, adding that the upgrade might cost from two to eight billion euros.

Putin told Miller the talks to form the consortium should be continued as gas supplies through the Ukrainian gas transportation system will be in demand amid rising gas consumption in Europe.

Moscow initiated the South Stream gas pipeline project to diversify Russian gas routes away from transit countries such as Ukraine.

Russia plans to launch South Stream, intended to carry Russian natural gas to Europe along the Black Sea bed, in 2015.

The pipeline will transport up to 63 billion cubic meters of gas to central and southern Europe.

Putin also ordered faster construction of the pipeline and the start of its underwater section by the end of 2012, not in 2013 as previously planned.

Source: RIA Novosti

Ukraine Ex-PM Tymoshenko Moved To Jail-Prison Service

KIEV, Ukraine -- Former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, sentenced to seven years in prison for abuse of office, has been moved to prison from a detention center where she has been held since early August, the state penitentiary service said on Friday.

Ukrainian ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko is seen through a prison window in Kiev.

The move indicated she was unlikely to go free any time soon despite pressure from the European Union, which considered her trial politically motivated and put off the signing of key agreements with Ukraine because of her sentence.

Tymoshenko is the fiercest opponent of President Viktor Yanukovich, who narrowly beat her in the presidential run-off in February 2010 after losing his earlier bid for the presidency because of the 2004 "Orange Revolution" protests which she led.

A local court sentenced Tymoshenko to seven years in prison in October, saying she had exceeded her powers when forcing through a 2009 gas deal with Russia.

Tymoshenko, who denies any wrongdoing, lost an appeal against the verdict one week ago.

"Tymoshenko has been moved to a prison in the Kharkiv region," the state penitentiary service said in a statement.

The European Union, which had planned to initial agreements on political association and free trade with Ukraine at a summit this month, put off the signing and cited Tymoshenko's case as an example of selective justice in the former Soviet republic.

Yanukovich has refused to intervene and the parliament, dominated by his supporters, has turned down several proposals to remove her alleged offence from the criminal code.

Tymoshenko's lawyers say she hopes that the European Court for Human Rights, where she has filed a case against Ukraine, will exonerate her.

The court said this month it would fast-track the case.

Tymoshenko, 51, has been suffering from back pains in the last few weeks and cannot walk, according to her lawyers who have said she should not be moved from the detention center because of this.

But the penitentiary service said she was fit to move.

"Before departure, Tymoshenko was examined by doctors who stated that her health allowed her to be moved," it said, adding that Tymoshenko travelled in a "comfortable" van.

Source: Chicago Tribune News

Five Killed In Donetsk Armed Bank Robbery

DONETSK, Ukraine -- Five employees of Ukraine’s largest bank, PrivatBank, were killed on Thursday in downtown Donetsk during an armed robbery, with the attackers escaping and fleeing the scene.

The attack, which appears to be the worst strike against a commercial bank in Ukraine’s modern history, is the third armed robbery in Donetsk in just four weeks.

“We are in deep shock over such a cruel crime,” Oleksandr Dubilet, the head PrivatBank, said in a statement issued by the bank.

“It is for the first time in our history that we face such a cruelty.”

Police declined to comment on the attack, but PrivatBank, in a statement issued earlier in the day, said the employees were killed by the attackers in “cold blood.”

“The bank's office in the center of Donetsk was robbed by a group of armed criminals in the afternoon on December 29,” PrivatBank said in a statement.

“The attackers, in cold blood, killed five bank employees who died of gunshot wounds at the scene."

The developments underscore a spectacular failure by police and law enforcement authorities for weeks to contain violence and crime in the city that is known to be the stronghold of President Viktor Yanukovych.

Donetsk, which is tightly controlled by Yanukovych allies, is also the home for Ukraine’s wealthiest person, Rinat Akhmetov, whose businesses, ranging from steel and mining, to telecommunications, and finance, are also based in the city.

Vasyl Farynnyk, the chief of the main investigation department at the Interior Ministry, told Ukrayinski Novyny news agency that a team of investigators from Kiev had been dispatched to Donetsk to help local police with the investigation.

PrivatBank offered a reward of 1 million hryvnias ($123,000) for assistance in uncovering the crime.

"PrivatBank declared December 30 a day of mourning for its employees killed at the hands of bandits,” the bank said.

“PrivatBank will provide overall assistance to Interior Ministry agencies to investigate all of the circumstances of the tragedy."

The latest attack is the third violent attack on a bank in Donetsk over the past four weeks.

The previous attack, on a branch of Credit Agricole, a French banking group’s subsidiary in Ukraine, left three people wounded, with one later dying of the wounds.

The attackers are believed to have stolen 1.5 million hryvnias ($185,000) - in different currencies - from Credit Agricole.

About 11,000 hryvnias ($1,353) were stolen by a group of armed robbers from a commercial bank in Donetsk in early December with no injuries reported.

Source: Ukrainian Journal

Why Putin Failed And The Russian Democrats May Too: The Sources And Risks Of Russia’s White Revolution

KIEV, Ukraine -- It is yet unclear what the exact outcome of the current upheaval in Moscow will eventually be. Yet, it seems already obvious that Russian politics will change substantially, in 2012.

Russian imperial nationalism and anti-Westernism has been a distraction for Vladimir Putin & Co who did not see the crisis of their regime coming. It may also, however, subvert the currently growing pro-democratic protest movement in Moscow and beyond.

To be sure, whether Russia indeed becomes more democratic and free as a result of the growing protests remains open.

Nonetheless, speaking of an – at least, attempted – Color Revolution is already justified.

To be sure, neither will Russia’s possible White Revolution become a real revolution, nor were the other Color Revolutions fully fledged revolutionary upheavals.

Yet, we have now, in Russia, the typical pattern of mass protests after a falsified election that partly delegitimizes the incumbent leadership – a sequence similar to, though not (yet) identical with, what we observed in Serbia in 2000, Georgia in 2003, Ukraine in 2004 and Kyrgysztan in 2005 – as well as, perhaps, the Arab world, more recently.

Why is the Putin system which looked stable as recently as a year ago currently failing?

And what are the risks for the re-emerging democratic movement in Russia?

Arguably, Putin made – within the logic of his own system that could have survived longer – one major strategic and one crucial tactical mistake.

Strategically, Putin’s preeminent failure was that his “vertical of power” did not fulfill one of its major purposes: to end or, at least, limit corruption in post-Soviet Russia.

Instead, of producing a modernizing authoritarianism along the lines of post-war South Korea, Taiwan or Singapore, Putin’s rule deepened rather than erased certain pathologies of late Soviet and early post-Soviet society.

Above all, it did not reduce the massive bribe-taking and - giving that goes on in all spheres of Russian public life.

Corruption seems to have become even a major problem for the security organs that grew out of the KGB, from where Putin once came.

It has thoroughly discredited the entire rationale of Putin’s contract with society: Instead of trading political freedom for effective governance, the “national leader” took away Russians’ civil and political rights without, however, delivering what he had promised, in exchange.

It is no accident that one of the leaders of the current protest movement, the nationalist Alexei Navalnyi, made himself initially a name by blogging about prominent corruption cases in Russia’s elite.

The major tactical blunder of Putin was that he refused to comprehend the reasons and nature of the post-Soviet Color Revolutions, above all of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution.

Or he drew the wrong lessons from it. Putin and Co. should have been alerted by how quickly and easily Kuchma’s semi-authoritarianism was, in 2004, brought down by the citizens of “Little Russia,” as Ukraine is often labeled in “Great Russia.”

One suspects that the reason for Putin’s obvious misunderstanding of the Orange Revolution as a CIA plot had much to do with his own and his “political technologists’s” massive personal and financial investment in the 2004 Ukrainian presidential elections.

It was a result of their manifest failure to prevent the rise to power Kiev’s pro-Western elite, as well as of a re-democratization of Ukraine.

The neo-Soviet Russian leadership – like the Soviet one before – fell into the trap of believing its own propaganda.

Once the idea of a major role of the West and particularly the United States in the Ukraine’s mass action of civil disobedience was entered by Putin and his leading ideologist into Russian political discourse, the idea took a life of itself.

Since then, it has been widely popularized and creatively elaborated upon by Russia’s numerous conspiracy theorists, political sensationalists and ultra-nationalist publicists.

As a result, the Russian journalist and academic analysis of the social foundations and political pre-conditions of the post-Soviet world’s various electoral upheavals has been lastingly poisoned.

Instead of opening Russia’s political system and softening his authoritarian rule, Putin “modernized” his autocracy in the opposite direction.

In the immediate aftermath of the Orange Revolution in 2005, a whole array of new institutions, organizations, and concepts were introduced in Russia that partly reminded of propaganda instruments of totalitarian regimes.

These innovations included various youth organizations such as “Nashi” (Ours), the Young Guard of United Russia, Eurasian Youth Union, “Molodaia Rossiia” (Young Russia), or “Mestnye” (The Locals), and new TV stations like English-language “Russia Today,” Orthodox “Spas” (Saviour) or military “Zvezda” (The Star) cable channels.

It also included the so-called Public Chamber as a transmission belt between the Russian authoritarian state and semi-autonomous intellectual elite, or the Day of Unity holiday on November 4th quickly hijacked by Russia’s extreme nationalists and their “Russian Marches.”

It is remarkable that all of these and some other new initiatives took effect in 2005, i.e. in the year that followed the November-December 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine.

Most prominently, Putin’s chief behind-the-scenes schemer Vladislav Surkov introduced in spring 2005 the concept of “sovereign democracy” which became the ideological centerpiece of the Putin regime’s world view, and purported that Russian political stability is threatened by foreign rather than domestic factors.

Much of Putin’s and his collaborators’ post-Orange rhetoric consisted of anti-Western hysteria, imperial megalomania, neo-Soviet conservatism, as well as more nationalist jingoism.

Not only did Putin and Co. let distract themselves by their own propaganda.

They also “oversaw” that the idea of democracy is surely weak, but not entirely without roots in Russia.

The Russian democratic tradition goes back at least as far as December 1825 when a group of Russian aristocrats who became known as the Decembrists had unsuccessfully tried to end Russian autocracy.

This democratic tradition was, in the 19th century and early 20th century, continued by the Westernizers and Slavophiles, social revolutionaries, social democrats (“Mensheviki”), as well as constitutional democrats of the declining Tsarist regime.

During Soviet rule, the Men of the Sixties within the Soviet intellectual elite, the anti-Soviet human rights activists of the 1970s, and so-called “informals” of the glasnost-induced Soviet civic movement of the late 1980s helped to prepare Russia’s democratization resulting, around 1990, from Gorbachev’s perestroika.

Most of the older activists of the current protest movement were either themselves members or have been inspired by the ideas, spirit and activities of this earlier generation of the late Soviet and early post-Soviet democrats.

Symbolically, the 24 December 2011 demonstration took place on a Moscow street named Andrei Sakharov, Russia’s most prominent human rights activist who, shortly before his death, played some role in bringing down the Soviet system in 1989-1990.

While the historical rootedness of the current protests may look encouraging, the actual history of the Russian democratic movement, however, is not.

Whether in 1825, 1905-1918 or 1991-1999 – all of Russia’s democratization attempts failed miserably, in the end.

The current re-democratization drive too may become victim to factors similar to those which subverted Gorbachev’s and Yeltsin’s experimentation with political pluralism: disunity among the liberals, anti-Western paranoia, and imperial nationalism.

First, today, as in the early 1990s, Russia’s democratic movement may turn out to have too many rather than too few charismatic leaders.

A possible strategy of the ancien regime for the upcoming presidential elections may be to register several pro-liberal candidates who would split the liberal vote among themselves.

This would, as in many previous federal-level elections in Russia, ensure that the most serious alternative to the Putin and his “United Russia” party may again become the communists, i.e. as previous presidential elections, Communist Party chairman Gennady Zyuganov.

One could, for instance, imagine a situation, in which Putin will have to stand in a second round facing Zyuganov who may have gotten less votes in the first round than the sum of the votes for liberal or semi-liberal candidates taken together.

Whether this will happen or not, one fears that – as in 1917 or the 1990s – Russia’s democratic movement will again become victim to its disunity, and the personal ambitions of its leaders.

Second, paranoia with regard to the West may again undermine Russian democratization.

NATO’s expansion to the East as well as bombing of Serbia were factors that weakened the pro-Western Russian liberals who, in considerable numbers, turned themselves against the West, in the late 1990s.

What was overseen at this time was that the major driving force for NATO expansion was less Amercian eagerness to include into NATO, for instance, the Baltic states than these countries’ pressure on the West to become parts of the Atlantic alliance.

In August 2008, Russia demonstrated in Georgia vividly what exactly the Baltic countries had been afraid off, and why they had been so insistent to become part of the Western defense community.

Without NATO enlargement, we might have gotten by today not only a pseudo-state called Republic of South Ossetia, but perhaps also “The Free City of Narva.”

Russian hysteria about NATO’s bombardment of Serbia was in 1999 already strange as the air raids were, to significant degree, carried out by German, French and Italian war planes, i.e. done by countries with which Russia was trying to build special relationships, at the same time.

The whole episode looks bizarre today: Serbia has now for months been knocking loudly at the doors of the European Union, demanding entry, although several member countries of the Union had been bombing Serbian military targets, some 12 years ago.

Anti-Westernism, in particular anti-Americanism, is still a major current in the Russian collective psyche, in particular in (semi-)intellectual discourse.

It was a major source of legitimacy for pre-revolutionary Tsarism, Soviet communism, and neo-Soviet Putinism.

Post-Soviet fear of a possible Western subversion of Russian identity and sovereignty will most probably be used by both the official nationalists in the ancien regime and extra-parliamentary ultra-nationalist groups to attack the liberal movement and question its patriotism.

We may soon observe that anti-Westernism becomes the basis for a rapprochement between Russia’s authoritarian state and “uncivil society,” meaning the multitude of semi-political Russian grouping and grouplets that are impregnated with, or propagate openly, racist, xenophobic, fundamentalist, occultist, differentialist, ethnocentric, or/and similar ideas.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, Russia’s imperial temptation could become a major challenge to the new Russian democratization.

Will the December 2011 protesters of the White Revolution fully accept the independence and sovereignty of the former Soviet republics, above all of Ukraine and Belarus?

The historical namesakes of Russia’s today would-be revolutionaries, the Decembrists of 1825 as well as the Whites of 1918-1922 did not.

The historical Whites, for instance, remained mostly staunchly imperial nationalists.

They insisted, during their Civil War against the Bolsheviks, that Russia should be “united and undivided.”

By that, the Whites meant that the national minorities in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia would not gain independence, but continue to belong to the Russian empire.

A popular saying in Ukraine since then has been that “Russian democracy ends where Ukraine’s independence begins.”

Will Russia’s new revolutionaries resist the imperial temptation, focus on their own country, and let the other post-Soviet nations go?

Will democratic leadership manage to prevent ultra-nationalists form hijacking the current protest movement, and from leading the upheaval ad absurdum?

Russia’s old elites before and after the October Revolution, the CPSU apparatchiks of the Soviet stagnation period of the 1970s-1980s, and Putin’s team during the last years failed, in their own ways.

Yet, the declines of Russia’s authoritarian regimes were also fundamentally similar.

These descents all happened against the background of Russia’s rulers’ excessive attention to the outside world rather than to problems at home.

The Russian White revolutionaries of the early 21st century would be well-advised not to step in the same trap as the Whites of the early 20th century.

They should concentrate themselves and they should turn Russia’s attention, in general, on her own problems.

Russia will become a law-ruled democracy once it stops seeing herself as an imperial or/and civilizational center engaged in a geopolitical struggle beyond her borders.

Source: The Day Weekly Digest

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Ukraine Fears New Russian Gas Route

KIEV, Ukraine -- Turkey’s decision to allow Russia permission to build the South Stream gas pipeline seems to have cause a degree of panic in Ukraine.

Ukraine stands to loose considerable gas transit revenues if Russia builds the South Stream gas pipeline.

The agreement, reached on Wednesday, could have significant implications on long-running gas negotiations between the two countries and reduce Ukraine’s bargaining power in extracting much needed price concessions from Moscow.

The South Stream pipeline would see Russian gas exported across the Black Sea to Europe, bypassing Ukraine, whose gas transit network is currently responsible for carrying 80 per cent of Russian energy exports to the EU.

In a display of understandable nervousness, Ukraine’s Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, took to Facebook on Thursday to threaten Russia with legal action should no deal be done.

“Ukraine is ready to take this dispute to international arbitration. But we would like to try settling it first,” wrote Azarov on his Facebook page, according to Reuters.

Ukraine’s reliance on Russian gas has placed its finances in a perilous position.

Energy imports account for over a third of Ukraine’s import costs.

The government, which currently pays around $416 per 1000 cubic metres of gas, has been trying to get Russia to give it a discount of around 40 per cent, so that it would in effect pay only $250 per 1000 cubic metres.

Talks over a new deal have been on-going for over a year and will begin again in January, according to Ukraine’s Minister for Energy.

In return for a cut-price arrangement, Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned gas company, is demanding a share in Ukraine’s pipelines.

But selling stakes in the country’s vital rent-generating assets would be politically unpopular for pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovich before parliamentary elections in October next year.

For all Azarov’s threats, the omens don’t bode well for Ukraine.

The South Stream deal indicates Russia’s desire to diversify away from its dependence on export routes through Ukraine.

This has been made all the more urgent following Wednesday’s signing of a memorandum of understanding between Azerbaijan and Turkey to build a new pipeline to carry Azeri gas to Europe.

Elsewhere, in a worrying precedent for Kiev, neighbours Belarus – who faced a similar predicament earlier this year – caved in to Russian pressure by selling their remaining stake in Beltransgaz to Gazprom last month.

But as reported by the FT, Gazprom may yet abandon the South Stream project if it succeeds in gaining greater control of Ukraine’s transit network.

Even so, Ukraine’s deteriorating fiscal position means it can’t afford to engage in a game of ‘chicken’ with Moscow.

The bloated energy bill – exacerbated by the fact that Ukraine sells the gas onto its citizens at heavily subsidised prices – has contributed to a current account deficit of 5.4 per cent of GDP or $8.6 bn, even as its currency – the hryvnia – is under sustained pressure.

Central bank intervention has kept the exchange rate at 8 hryvnia to the US dollar at the cost of $1.5bn every month.

With effective gross reserves at only $17bn, intervention can only continue for another 12 months if no new deal is reached.

Either way, a devaluation looms.

“The longer it takes Yanukovich to make a decision [over gas prices], the wider the deficit will become and the larger the currency shock when it comes” Dmytro Boyarchuk, an adviser with Global Source partners told FT.

Boyarchuk does not believe the situation has yet reached a critical point, but estimates that if the current gas contract remains, Ukraine will suffer a sharp currency shock in the autumn, with the currency falling to 11 hryvnia per dollar.

This could have fatal consequences for investment.

“If investors see the potential currency risk, the government will not be able to raise financing from the markets for its current liabilities. In this situation and dependent on the depreciation risks, there is a possibility of technical default.”

Source: FT

US Again Scolds Ukraine On Rights Record

NEW YORK, USA -- The United States again expressed concern about democracy and rule of law in Ukraine after a Kiev court of appeals upheld the conviction of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

Yulia Tymoshenko may be moved to a provincial jail.

The U.S. urged the Ukrainian authorities to release Tymoshenko and other opposition figures currently kept in jail to allow them to participate in upcoming elections in October 2012.

“The United States was disappointed that the Kiev Court of Appeals upheld the conviction of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko on December 23rd and did not address concerns about democracy and rule of law raised in the initial trial and sentencing,” State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said at a briefing on Tuesday.

“We urge the Government of Ukraine to free Mrs. Tymoshenko and the other former government officials currently in detention,” Toner said.

“We believe that they should have an unrestricted ability to participate fully in political life, including next year’s parliamentary elections.”

The Kiev Appeals Court upheld a lower court’s guilty verdict and seven-year sentence for Tymoshenko, 50, in a decision her top aide called President Viktor Yanukovych’s “personal vengeance.”

Tymoshenko was convicted in October of overstepping her authority while negotiating a natural gas contract with Russia in 2009.

The U.S. and the European Union have sharply criticized Tymoshenko’s imprisonment as politically motivated and demanded her release.

The EU last week refused to sign a key partnership deal with Kiev over the Tymoshenko case.

Yanukovych, Tymoshenko’s longtime foe, said the courts and law enforcement agencies were independent and he would not intervene.

Tymoshenko has spent more than four months in a Kiev jail after being charged with contempt of court during her trial.

She claims to have developed severe back and skin problems while in custody and accuses the authorities of denying her proper medical care.

Prosecutors spokesman Yuriy Boychenko said it was unclear whether Tymoshenko would now be sent to a provincial prison to serve her term or would remain in Kiev while a separate case that has been opened against her is investigated.

Source: Ukrainian Journal

England Football Fans Face Street Drinking Ban In Ukraine For Euro 2012 Matches

LONDON, England -- England football fans travelling to support their country at Euro 2012 will be banned from drinking in streets or parks during the tournament.

Drunkenness: An England fan hangs on a fountain in Lisbon, Portugal during Euro 2004. Fans behaving like this in Ukraine for this year's tournament could be slapped with instant community service orders.

Strict new rules have been pushed through by Ukrainian officials to prevent mass drunkenness when thousands of supporters flood Donetsk for England's matches next summer.

England will play two matches in the city, their opener against France on June 11 and a concluding Group D encounter with hosts Ukraine eight days later.

Fans who are caught drinking despite the ban will be handed instant community service orders, which could see them forced to tidy cemeteries or clean public toilets.

Sergey Illich, a spokesman for Donetsk city council, told the Daily Star that the measures have been brought in to save time in the courts.

He said: 'These laws will apply to any football fans caught drinking in our streets and parks.

'They will be put to useful work like cleaning garbage or finding homeless dogs.'

The Foreign Office is also warning fans travelling to Ukraine for England's two matches there to beware the country's terrible road safety record.

An FCO spokesman told the Star: 'Local driving standards are poor. Streetlights are weak and road signs are often ignored.'

Ukrainian women's rights campaigners have also warned that the tournament risks increasing sex tourism in the country.

Activists from FEMEN, a Ukrainian feminist group, staged a topless pitch invasion at the opening ceremony of the country's Olympiisky National Sports Complex two months ago.

They demanded that UEFA tell football fans that visiting prostitutes during the Euro 2012 tournament was unacceptable.

Source: Mail Online

Ukrainian Opposition Parties To Join Forces

KIEV, Ukraine -- Two Ukrainian opposition parties whose leaders are currently in jail say they will form a joint candidate list for the 2012 parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reports.

Yuriy Lutsenko (L) and Yulia Tymoshenko meet in a courtroom in Kiev in May.

The deputy leaders of the Fatherland and People's Self-Defense parties made the announcement in Kiev.

Former Ukrainian Prime Minister and Fatherland party leader Yulia Tymoshenko was jailed in October for seven years for exceeding her authority in brokering a 2009 gas deal with Russia.

And former Interior Minister and head of the People's Self-Defense party Yuriy Lutsenko went on trial in May for abuse of office and misappropriation of funds. He remains in detention.

Both deny the charges against them and say their cases are politically motivated.

The two deputy leaders said on December 28 that their parties will merge at a still undetermined date.

The elections to the unicameral parliament are scheduled for October. President Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions currently holds a majority in parliament.

Yanukovych narrowly beat Tymoshenko in the 2010 presidential election, 48.95 percent to 45.47 percent.

According to a poll by the Kyiv-based Razumkov Center released on December 27, Fatherland is currently the most popular party in Ukraine with 15.8 percent support, while People's Self-Defense garnered just 0.4 percent support from respondents.

The first deputy leader of Fatherland, Oleksandr Turchynov, expressed the hope that some other opposition parties will also merge with his party and People's Self-Defense.

Ukraine earlier this year switched to a mixed electoral system, with half of the deputies to be elected under the proportional system.

Source: Radio Free Europe

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Yanukovych Signs Ukraine's 2012 Budget Based On Gas Price Of $416

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has signed into law the country's 2012 budget based on the price of Russian natural gas at $416 per 1,000 cubic meters, the presidential press office reported on Wednesday.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Ukraine delayed the budget adoption until the last moment, expecting that the ongoing talks on gas price cuts with Moscow would produce positive results.

However, Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said on Tuesday the budget process would not be delayed or made contingent on gas talks with Russia while amendments could be made to it if the parties reached a deal on gas price reduction.

Ukraine has long been seeking to alter the terms of the 2009 gas deal it signed with Russia.

The deal ties the price of gas to oil prices, which have risen sharply since 2009, boosting Ukraine's gas bill.

The contract says Ukraine must import no less than 33 billion cubic meters of gas from Russia annually.

Kiev insists on reducing both the price and the volume of gas imports.

In the fourth quarter of 2011, Ukraine pays $400 per 1,000 cubic meters for Russian natural gas.

Gazprom said on Monday gas talks with Ukraine would continue on January 15, 2012.

Russia annually pumps about 100 billion cubic meters of gas to European countries via Ukraine, which makes up 80 percent of its total gas supplies to Europe.

Source: RIA Novosti

Former Write-In Candidate For Governor Plans To Return To Ukraine In Continued Search For Love

PHOENIX, USA -- A former Arizona gubernatorial candidate is back in the Valley for the holidays, after becoming homeless while searching for love in the Ukraine.

Cary Dolego with an unidentified Ukrainian woman.

Cary Dolego, 53, took two different trips to the Ukraine in 2011.

He used internet dating sites and interpreters throughout the trips, where he met Ukrainian women and hoped to find true love.

He spoke with ABC15 Tuesday for the first time since returning from his trip.

"I had a huge success in that I loved everything about it except...for the disappointment in not finding a wife," Dolego said.

Dolego ran as a write-in candidate for Arizona governor in 2010.

After he didn't win, he looked at finding his next wife and was drawn to the values of Ukrainian women.

"I need a life partner, that's what I'm looking for," he said.

Dolego's last trip didn't go exactly as planned.

He wound up sick, homeless and was contacted by Ukrainian immigration, part of the reason he is now back in Arizona.

"I look at it as a learning experience," he said.

While he did not find his soul mate, Dolego isn't giving up.

He is planning a return trip to the Ukraine in the coming months and hopes, as the saying goes, the third time's a charm.

"I'm out there looking, I'm online," he said. "I'd love to hear from her."

When he leaves for his next trip, it won't be the last time you hear from him.

Dolego plans to run for Governor of Arizona, again, in 2014.

Source: ABC15

Kingdom, Ukraine To Coordinate On Fight Against Piracy, Terror

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Saudi Arabia and Ukraine have set out a new vision of bilateral relationship with plans to boost cooperation in different sectors, especially in commerce, defense, agriculture and tourism.

Defense Minister Prince Salman holds talks with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kostyantin Gryshchenko in Riyadh on Tuesday.

Riyadh and Kiev have also agreed to coordinate their positions on a range of subjects of common concern, while the two sides have jointly sought to strengthen their fight against piracy at the sea, terrorism, extremism and organized crime.

“Prince Salman, minister of defense, and Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Kostyantin Gryshchenko held talks here Tuesday and they agreed to boost cooperation in defense sector with a plan to set up a panel to explore possibility of cooperation,” said Konstantin Zhumenko, a spokesman of the Ukraine Embassy.

Gryshchenko had wide-ranging talks with Prince Salman.

He later met Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal and Minister of Agriculture Fahd Balghunaim.

The Ukrainian minister also met with Prince Mansour bin Miteb, minister of municipal and rural affairs; Jabara Al-Seraisry, transport minister, GCC Secretary-General Abdullateef Al-Zayani and Shoura Vice Chairman Mohammed bin Amin Jefry.

“The two sides discussed a range of subjects of common concern, including the developments in the Middle East as well as subjects in the global context,” said the embassy spokesman.

Referring to the minister's talks with Prince Saud, he said Kiev supported the Saudi position on tensions in Middle East flashpoints.

“The talks also focused on bilateral relations and ways to further improve the relations,” said the spokesman.

Ukraine has also been concerned about numerous cases of piracy in the western part of the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden.

It has offered to work together with the Kingdom and other nations to fight piracy.

Source: Arab News

Ukraine-Russia Gas Talks To Resume After Holidays

MOSCOW, Russia -- Ukraine and Russia will renew gas talks on Jan. 15, Gazprom said Monday, as they strive to avert a standoff over pricing, which in the past has led to supply cuts and gas shortages in Europe during New Year's holidays.

Both countries have pledged to ensure steady gas flows to the Europe Union, which relies on Russia for one quarter of its gas supplies, despite differences over pricing and the ownership of Ukraine's strategic gas pipeline system.

Kiev and Moscow have been locked in difficult gas talks for the past year as Ukraine, whose fragile economy is suffering from a budget deficit, seeks a cut in the cost of Russian gas, which is set to rise to $416 per thousand cubic meters in the first quarter of 2012 to match what the EU is paying.

The price is currently about $400 per thousand cubic meters. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych said last week that he considered $250 per tcm the highest acceptable price.

But Russia has been adamant in saying Ukraine must stick to the multiyear contract signed in 2009.

On Friday, Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller and Ukrainian Energy Minister Yury Boiko met in St. Petersburg.

"The participants have taken note of the positive and constructive character of the 2011 talks and good perspectives for the next round of talks, which will take place on Jan. 15," Gazprom said in a statement Monday.

Unlike 2009, there is no clear deadline for a deal, which is seen as important for securing shipments of gas to Europe by establishing a price and joint control of the transit pipelines that carry more than half of Russian gas deliveries to the EU.

But Gazprom has little incentive to hurry a deal while it stands to gain leverage in the talks as Ukraine's fiscal position worsens.

It also continues to collect the higher price stipulated in the current contract in the meantime.

Prior to the November launch of the Nord Stream gas pipeline, which started to pump gas directly to Germany along the Baltic Sea bed at a yearly rate of 27.5 billion cubic meters, Ukraine used to transship about 80 percent of Russian gas to Europe.

The rest passed through Belarus, which last month agreed to cede its gas pipeline operator Beltransgaz to Gazprom in return for cuts to gas prices, which will average at $164 per tcm in 2012.

Russia would be glad to take over the gas pipeline system in Ukraine as well, but the idea has met with public outrage and fierce opposition in Kiev.

According to Russian Energy Ministry sources, Moscow offered to split pipeline ownership equally between Kiev and Moscow.

A proposal also to include EU companies is on the table.

Nord Stream will double its capacity to 55 bcm a year when the second stage is commissioned by the end of 2012, further weakening Ukraine's position in the talks.

Moscow is also pushing forward with plans to build the 15.5 billion euro South Stream pipeline, a rival to the EU-backed Nabucco project, to carry 63 bcm of gas a year to Southern Europe via the Black Sea from 2015, in order to bypass transit countries such as Ukraine.

Gazprom CEO Miller said Monday that the implementation of the South Stream project hinges on gas talks with Ukraine.

"South Stream has always been linked to Ukraine," he said.

A source in the Russian Energy Ministry told Reuters that Russia expected Turkey to give its a nod to the pipeline to pass through its waters.

Ankara's prior refusal to give South Stream the green light has been a stumbling block for the project.

A Russian delegation is due to meet with Turkish counterparts on Tuesday to discuss energy issues.

"South Stream will effectively kill off the need to acquire Ukraine's gas transit system," the source said.

Source: The Moscow Times

US Urges Ukraine To Free Tymoshenko

WASHINGTON, DC -- The United States on Tuesday urged Ukraine to free former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko after she lost an appeal against her seven-year jail sentence on charges of abuse of power.

State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner.

The US State Department said it was "disappointed" by the Ukrainian court's ruling, adding that Tymoshenko and other former government officials who are in detention should be able to participate fully "in political life."

Tymoshenko, the leader of the 2004 Orange Revolution, was sentenced in October for abuse of power while prime minister in a case that was launched just months after she lost a close election to President Viktor Yanukovych.

Her sentence was upheld on Friday.

State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said "the United States was disappointed that the Kiev Court of Appeals upheld the conviction of Yulia Tymoshenko on December 23."

Washington was also disappointed that the court "did not address concerns about democracy and rule of law raised in the initial trial and sentencing," Toner added.

"We urge the government of Ukraine to free Mrs Tymoshenko and the other former government officials currently in detention," Toner said.

"We believe that they should have an unrestricted ability to participate fully in political life, including next year's parliamentary elections," he said.

Late last year, the Ukrainian authorities detained Tymoshenko's former environment minister, interior minister and deputy justice minister.

Source: AFP

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Ukraine: Balancing Russia, The West And Democracy

WASHINGTON, DC -- Perhaps the biggest foreign policy challenge that has faced Ukraine’s leadership since the country regained independence in 1991 has been finding a balance between its relations with Russia and its relations with the West.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych (L) is welcomed by Russian President Dimitri Medvedev.

Over the past 20 years, each Ukrainian president has sought strong ties with Europe and the United States, in part to gain freedom of maneuver vis-à-vis a large and assertive Russian neighbor that appears not yet fully reconciled to the idea of Ukraine as a truly sovereign and independent state.

This challenge now confronts President Victor Yanukovych.

He has stressed the utility for Ukraine of an association agreement and comprehensive free trade arrangement with the European Union, which would give Kiev a solid anchor to Europe.

But he is learning — as did his predecessors — that democratic values matter in the West, and they influence how the West engages with Ukraine.

Relations between Ukraine and Russia have a long, complex and sometimes unhappy history.

As Kiev in the early 1990s struggled to build an independent nation, Presidents Leonid Kravchuk and Leonid Kuchma placed priority on building relationships with the West in order to strengthen their hands as they dealt with Moscow on a range of messy post-Soviet “divorce” questions.

Building those relationships was made easier, or more difficult, by the state of democracy within Ukraine.

For example, democratic slippage during and after the 1999 presidential election contributed to the downturn that brought Ukraine’s relations with the United States and Europe to a nadir in late 2002.

Following the Orange Revolution, Victor Yushchenko’s foreign policy put dramatically more weight on the Western side of the balance, including by making a bid for membership in NATO.

That helped to trigger a precipitous decline in Ukrainian-Russian relations.

The more democratic, if often chaotic, nature of Yushchenko’s policies at home earned him considerable credit in the West, even if some Europeans worried about the problems that Yushchenko’s policy created between Kiev and Moscow — and potentially between Europe and Russia.

Following his election in 2010, Yanukovych stated his desire for a balance between the West and Russia while making an improvement in the frayed relationship with Moscow his first foreign policy priority.

He extended the Black Sea Fleet’s presence in Crimea, halted pursuit of NATO membership, and dropped policies that had infuriated the Russian leadership, such as seeking to have the Holodomor recognized as genocide.

Over the past year, however, Kiev has grown increasingly frustrated by what it regards as Moscow’s failure to reciprocate Ukraine’s steps to improve bilateral relations.

In 2012, Vladimir Putin will return to the Russian presidency, and he has just unveiled his “big idea” of a Eurasian Union.

Yanukovych should understand that the better his relationship with Europe and the more stable the balance between his relationships with the West and Russia, the stronger his position will be in dealing with the Kremlin.

He needs also to understand that democracy affects the balance.

The fact that Yanukovych’s election was free, fair and competitive gave him democratic legitimacy, which secured him acceptance and access in the United States and Europe.

But his domestic policies since then have produced regression: pressure on the media, inappropriate actions by state agencies such as the Security Service of Ukraine, elections that failed to meet the standards of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe or the norms that Ukraine achieved in 2006-2010, and arrests of opposition leaders on dubious charges.

The trial of former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko has crystallized Western concern about Yanukovych’s democratic backslide.

Yanukovych must reconcile his desire to tighten political control, reduce the democratic space for the opposition, and keep Tymoshenko out of the political arena with his desire for closer relations with the European Union.

He cannot pursue a more authoritarian course at home and at the same time enjoy strong relations with a West for whom democratic values matter.

A failure to secure a solid relationship with the West will cause disbalance in Ukraine’s foreign policy.

That would leave Kiev more isolated and susceptible to pressure from Moscow.

Does Yanukovych want to risk dealing with Putin from a weaker international position?

If not, then he needs to correct his domestic political course.

Source: Brookings

Ukraine’s Ruling Party Support Trails Opposition, Survey Shows

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s party approval fell behind the main opposition group for the first time in at least 20 months after the imprisonment of his long-time rival, Yulia Tymoshenko.

The ruling Party of the Regions had a 13.9 percent support in December, compared with 16.6 percent three months earlier and 39.1 percent in April 2010, the Razumkov Center for Economic and Political Studies, based in the capital Kiev, said today in an e-mailed statement.

Tymoshenko’s party saw its rating rise to 15.8 percent from 13.8 percent.

Parliamentary elections are scheduled for next October.

Tymoshenko, 51, a former prime minister, was sentenced to seven years in prison in October for her role in signing a 10- year gas supply and transit agreement with Russia as the head of the government in 2009.

She denied any wrongdoing and said Yanukovych engineered the case to eliminate her from elections next year.

More than 55 percent of respondents believe Yanukovych and his associates are resorting to political repression, the Razumkov Center’s poll found.

The survey of 2,008 voting-age Ukrainians was conducted Dec. 9-16 and had a margin of error of 2.3 percentage points.

Source: Business Week

Ukraine's Tymoshenko Warns President On Russia Deal

KIEV, Ukraine -- Former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko warned President Viktor Yanukovich in an open letter from jail on Monday against selling gas pipelines to Russia, saying such a move would strip Kiev of leverage with Moscow.

Yulia Tymoshenko

Ukraine has sought to negotiate cheaper Russian gas supplies for more than a year and government and industry sources say Moscow insists on getting a stake in Ukrainian pipelines that ship Russian gas to Europe.

Kiev has so far refused to do this but Yanukovich's government is in a difficult position as the price of gas is rising under the current agreement, stretching state finances at a time of global economic downturn.

Ukraine subsidises gas and heating supplies to households so dropping the subsidies would mean political suicide for Yanukovich's Party of the Regions as it prepares for a parliamentary election in October 2012.

"...Don't you dare sell the gas shipping network," Tymoshenko wrote. "This is our last strategic resource."

Yanukovich, who narrowly beat Tymoshenko in the February 2010 presidential election, has accused her of betraying national interests by brokering a 2009 gas deal with Russia under which Ukraine pays a price linked to that of oil.

Kiev is paying Russian gas giant Gazprom about $400 per thousand cubic metres and the price will rise to $485 in the next quarterly adjustment.


Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in prison in October on charges of abusing her powers in forcing through the 2009 agreement.

She has dismissed the charges as politically motivated, a view shared by the European Union.

In Monday's letter she sought to turn the tables on Yanukovich.

"You are only being admitted to Gorki (the residence of the Russian president) because this (gas pipeline) system still belongs to Ukraine," she wrote.

"Once you lose it, you will have no arguments to make for yourself or for the country."

Ukraine transships the bulk of Russian gas bound for Europe and transit volume stood at 95 billion cubic metres in January-November this year.

Previous disputes between Moscow and Kiev disrupted such shipments, prompting Russia and the EU to develop alternate shipping routes such as Nord Stream which was launched this year and goes through the Baltic Sea.

On Monday, Gazprom Chief Executive Alexei Miller said another alternative pipeline, South Stream, would be built across the Black Sea if talks with Ukraine fail.

Ukrainian officials say the country could eventually lose all transit volumes -- and revenues -- unless it allows Gazprom to buy into its pipelines.

"Turning an economic asset into a fetish is ridiculous," Oleg Voloshin, the head of Information Department at Ukraine's Foreign Ministry, told the Gorshenin Institute think tank in comments published on Monday.

"This is just an economic asset and it must work. It is not important who owns it."

Ukraine has long offered Gazprom and Ukrainian energy firms to create a three-party consortium that would run its pipelines.

However, local media reports indicated this month Gazprom was pressing for a Russian-Ukrainian joint venture.

Gazprom said on Monday talks with Ukraine would continue on Jan. 15.

Source: Guardian UK

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Russian Expansion: Tricolor, Mercedes And A Three-Fold Increase In Salary

MINSK, Belarus -- November and December events clearly show that Russia's policies towards Belarus are dictated primarily not by economic considerations but political.

Russia is willing to spend billions of dollars in subsidies to keep the status quo in Belarus.

The European Union, on the other hand, is more and more busy with its own problems, the most important of which is the crisis of the Eurozone.

In the coming year, Russia will increase the amount of economic support to Lukashenka's regime.

Apart from the significant discount in the gas price, the Belarusian side will benefit from refining larger volume of Russian crude oil.

Beltransgaz as a Signal For Belarusians

The next day after Beltransgaz was sold to Gazprom in November, the Belarusian flags were taken off flagpoles near the buildings of Beltransgaz' agencies.

The flags of Russia and Gazprom remained on the flagpoles.

A few days later Chairman of Gazprom Alexey Miller came to Minsk to annouce that the salaries of Beltransgaz' staff (the company was renamed to Gazprom Transgaz Belarus) would be tripled.

A new posh office of the company with a ultra-modern gym would be built.

Mercedes Benz cars would be bought for the senior staff of the company.

The charity program "Gazprom to Children" will be expanded to include Belarus.

According to Gazprom, Beltransgaz' losses in 2011 amounted to about USD one billion.

Even if we consider that these data may be inaccurate (Gazprom had an interest to understate Beltransgaz' profitability before buying it), and Gazprom's plans to increase the gas transit through Belarus to 44,5 billion cubic meters, a threefold increase in salaries of Beltransgaz' staff is not justified from the business point of view.

According to Miller, Putin himself ordered to triple the salaries of Beltransgaz' staff.

It was a political and not an economic decision.

The Russian leadership wants to use Beltransgaz as a platform for sending a signal to the Belarusian society that the staff of the enterprises bought by Russian companies will receive much higher salaries and get a better benefits package.

Miller did not announce any personnel replacement in the Beltransgaz management.

In early December, General Director of Beltransgaz Uladzimir Majorau made a number of statements about the company's activities in 2012.

The Russian leadership wants to send a signal to the Belarusian directorate: if their enterprises are bought by Russian companies, the top management will retain their posts and will gain in salary, they will drive new Mercedes.

Besides, Russian partners always turned a blind eye to how their Belarusian colleagues pull their ranks, because this is how they use to do it in Russia.

Editor of the Belarusian independent publication Arche Valery Bulhakau aptly said that the Kremlin wanted to use Beltransgaz to "promote the imperial appeal".

Geopolitical Implications of the Beltransgaz Sale

The purchase of Beltransgaz by Gazprom will have consequences not only for the relations between Belarus and Russia.

Russia gets a guarantee that a union of transit states – Belarus and Ukraine – will never be created.

There was a time when the possibility of emergence of such a union worried the Kremlin a lot.

Now, Russia is able to stifle Belarus and Ukraine one by one.

The web site Regnum.Ru, which publishes articles written by political analysts close to the Kremlin, describes the following sequence of actions of Russia in regard to Belarus and Ukraine.

Three years later, when the discount for the gas price under the agreement of November 25 expires, the Russian side will significantly increase the gas price for Belarus.

Lukashenka will have to sell major Belarusian enterprises.

Typically, they work for the Russian market, and get their components and raw materials from Russia.

They will be bought only by Russian companies.

The special gas price will be given only to those Belarusian enterprises, which will be sold to Russian companies.

The Russian ruble will be introduced as the national currency in Belarus.

The Russian military presence will be expanded.

Lukashenka will retire and give up his chair to an appointee of the Kremlin.

The Nord Stream pipeline will be used at full capacity.

The pumping of gas through the territory of Belarus through the newly Russian pipeline will be increased to a maximum.

Ukraine will have to sell its pipeline system to Gazprom.

It will create additional opportunities for the Russian economic expansion in Ukraine.

Regardless of what fate is meant to Ukraine by Moscow, the Belarusian issue is seen by many Russian analysts as closed: sooner or later, Russia will get everything it wants from Lukashenka.

To achieve this end Russia is willing to spend billions in subsidies, which will make Belarusian economy increasingly dependant upon its eastern neighbour.

Russia Gets Belarus Hooked on Oil and Gas

On December 15 in Moscow, an agreement was signed between the Ministry of Energy of Belarus and the Ministry of Economic Development of Russia on crude oil deliveries to Belarus in 2012.

Russia agreed to supply 21,5 million tons of crude oil in Belarus by pipelines, or 3,5 million tons more than in 2011.

Also, an agreement was signed between the management of the concern Belnaftakhim and a number of Russian oil companies, in particular, Lukoil, Rosneft, and Surgutneftegaz, on crude oil supplies to the Belarusian refineries.

Already back in late November, Russia's ambassador Aleksandr Surikov said that the Russian side was not considering the possibility of reducing the size of the bonus for the Russian oil companies, which supplied crude oil to Belarus.

In accordance with the agreement of December 15, the size of the bonus for the Russian oil companies was reduced down to USD $20 to $40 a ton.

The Russian party has met the wishes of Belarusian officials, concerning another important issue.

Over the recent years, the Belarusian government repeatedly asked Russia to get back to the so-called tilling-based operations of Belarusian refineries, all in vain.

According to the schemes, Russian companies supplied crude oil to Belarusian oil-refining plants and received petrochemical products in return.

Applying the schemes, both the Russian oil producing companies and the Belarusian refineries used to gain significant profit for a long period of time.

The treaty of December 15, 2011 provided for the possibility of applying the tilling-based operations again.

The sum to be gained by Lukashenka regime in 2012 due to signing the oil supply contracts remains unknown.

Commenting upon the negotiation results, the ‘Belnaftakhim’ concern management stated that the contracts provided for the most profitable conditions of oil supply from Russia for the recent five years.

Economists have grounds to state that broadening of cooperation between Belarus and Russia in the oil refinery field has certain economic reasons.

Thus, the number of cars is rapidly growing in Russia.

Consequently, the eastern neighbour lacks petrol and diesel fuel.

However, political motives are apparently present here to this or that extent too.

The author mentioned in the previous report that the Kremlin’s significant overpayment for ‘Beltransgas’ was politically reasoned.

An independent Belarusian economic expert Leanid Zaika noted that according to his calculations Lukashenka regime would get around USD $3 billion of Russian subsidies, due to the discounted gas price in 2012.

The contracts of December 15th can also be regarded as a lavish Russian new year present to Lukashenka regime.

Following the statements, delivered by Lukashenka and the Prime-Minister of Belarus Mikhail Miasnikovich, as well as according to the official documents, the governmental authorities count on using the funds to cover the foreign debt in 2012.

The public expenses, including a part of welfare programs will be cut down at that.

Also, the salaries of budget staff and pensions will be increased insignificantly next year.

Lukashenka looks more optimistic than the government.

As soon as there appeared information about the outcome of negotiations on oil supply in Moscow on December 16, 2011, Lukashenka stated that it would be realistic to reach the positive balance of foreign trade in the amount of USD $1.5 billion in 2012.

Moreover, Belarus received a loan from the Savings Bank of Russia (Sberbank Rossii) and the Euroasian Development Bank in the amount of USD $1 billion on December 15, 2011.

The First Deputy Minister of Finance Uladzimir Amaryn noted that a significant part of the loan could be transferred to the Belarus’ gold and foreign exchange reserves.

The Prime-Minister Mikhail Miasnikovich stated that according to the reached agreements, the Savings Bank of Russia would issue extra USD $4 billion of loans for implementation of various projects in Belarus shortly.

Source: Belarus Digest

Tymoshchuk Is Ukraine's Best Ever

MUNICH, Germany -- Bayern Munich defensive midfielder Anatoliy Tymoshchuk has been voted as the best ever footballer in the history of his native Ukraine.

Anatoliy Tymoshchuk

According to the Bayern official website, 32-year-old Tymoshchuk emerged as the winner of a two-month nationwide poll entitled The Victory of Football, a survey launched to determine the stalwarts of Ukrainian football ever since the country gained independence in 1991.

Tymoshchuk, who was crowned as the country's best ever footballer, beat competition from AC Milan legend Andriy Shevchenko to claim the ultimate accolade.

The shaggy-haired midfielder has won the Ukrainian Player of the Year gong three times in 2002, 2006 and 2007 and also reached a milestone recently this year when he became his country's most capped player, having earned 113 caps.

While plying his trade with domestic outfit Shakhtar Donetsk, Tymoshchuk bagged the Ukrainian league and cup on three occasions and he also tasted European glory in 2008, with his side Zenit St. Petersburg claiming the UEFA Cup.

Tymoshchuk nearly followed compatriot Shevchenko's footsteps into winning the UEFA Champions League crown when the he participated in the final against Inter Milan in 2010; however his club side Bayern lost 2-0 to the Italians.

Tymoshchuk joined Bayern from Russian side Zenit in 2009 and was a key component of his side's double winning team in 2010.

Source: ESPN

The Next Russian Revolution?

NEW YORK, USA -- Twenty years ago, Mikhail S. Gorbachev announced the end of a huge global experiment. After seven decades, the Soviet Union would be dismantled, its 15 republics becoming independent countries, and capitalism replacing the planned Soviet economy.

Mikhail S. Gorbachev

Lenin’s embalmed corpse was left undisturbed in the Red Square mausoleum in Moscow, but the cause for which he led the October 1917 revolution no longer held the affection of hundreds of millions of Russians and millions more around the world.

For two decades since, the Russian people have largely endured in silence the oppressive and corrupt system of power that ensued — until blatant irregularities in parliamentary elections earlier this month sent an estimated 50,000 people out in protest.

These protesters have planned what is expected to be the biggest demonstration since the fall of Communism for Saturday in Moscow.

Vladimir V. Putin, the once and future president, is at last facing trouble from the streets.

The terminal crisis of Communism, by contrast, was a quiet affair. The end of the Soviet Union was revolutionary, but it did not involve a crowd storming the walls of the Kremlin, an attack on the K.G.B. headquarters or calling up the Moscow army garrisons.

Indeed the final days of the Communist era were remarkable for the low intensity of political activity of any kind.

On national television, Mr. Gorbachev put on a brave face: “We’re now living in a new world,” he said during a Dec. 25, 1991, broadcast of his resignation speech.

“An end has been put to the cold war and to the arms race, as well as to the mad militarization of the country.” But he could not disguise his regret that the Soviet order was about to be taken apart.

Mr. Gorbachev was paying the price for his failures.

The economic laws he introduced in 1988 had weakened the huge state sector without allowing private enterprise to emerge. He had irritated the country’s dominant institutions — the Communist Party, the K.G.B. and the military — but had merely trimmed their capacity to retaliate.

By widening freedoms of expression, moreover, he inadvertently encouraged radicals to denounce Communism, despite his reforms.

Mr. Gorbachev had complacently assumed that reform would release the energies of “the Soviet people.”

But the truth was that no such people existed. The Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians pressed for independent statehood and chose their own Baltic patriots to lead them.

The Georgians in 1990 elected a wild nationalist as president.

Throughout the western and southeastern borderlands of the Soviet Union, the disintegration proceeded apace.

In August 1991, while Mr. Gorbachev vacationed in Crimea, his subordinates acted to halt his reforms by staging a coup.

But the plotters overlooked the need to apprehend Boris N. Yeltsin, an ex-Communist radical who had been elected president of the Russian republic two months earlier.

Mr. Yeltsin raced to the Russian White House in central Moscow.

Standing atop a tank, he defiantly denounced the plotters.

The coup was aborted, and when Mr. Gorbachev returned from house arrest, it was Mr. Yeltsin who appeared the hero.

Yet Yeltsin felt he couldn’t consolidate his personal supremacy unless he broke up the Soviet Union and governed Russia as a separate state.

He and his supporters saw Russia as a slumbering giant with a future of enormous potential if the encumbrance of the other Soviet republics was removed.

He saw Communism as a dead end and a totalitarian nightmare.

And unlike Mr. Gorbachev, he was willing to say this openly and without equivocation.

His opportunity for action arose on Dec. 1, 1991, when Ukrainians voted to break away from the Soviet Union.

Without Ukraine, it was clear, the Soviet Union would face further secessionist demands.

Mr. Yeltsin met quietly with the presidents of Ukraine and Belarus and came to an agreement to declare the Soviet Union abolished.

Mr. Gorbachev had no choice but to agree, and the vengeful Mr. Yeltsin unceremoniously bundled him out of the Kremlin.

The Russian people, it turned out, preferred to watch politicians on television rather than become active participants in the country’s transformation.

They had long been cynical about Communist leaders, and the trauma of the arrests and executions during Stalin’s Great Terror of the late 1930s had made them wary about taking part in politics.

Although thousands of young Russians had joined Mr. Yeltsin in defying the coup plotters in August 1991, civic activism declined as conditions worsened.

As state enterprises underwent privatization, workers feared unemployment and resisted calls to go on strike.

Russia’s manufacturing sector collapsed; only the petrochemical, gold and timber sectors successfully weathered the storms of capitalist development.

A few businessmen became super-rich by exploiting legal loopholes and often using fraudulent and violent methods.

Most citizens of post-Communist Russia were too exhausted to do more than grumble.

Public protest against the Kremlin became more difficult under Mr. Putin.

Elected to the presidency in 2000, and now serving as prime minister, he has used ballot-box fraud, disqualification of rival political candidates and control of national television to stay in power.

Although he gained popularity for bringing stability, his own administration is now attracting growing hostility.

Most Russians are sick of the corruption, misrule and poverty that plague their country while the Kremlin elite feasts on the profits from oil and gas exports — and who can blame them?

At the turn of the millennium, 40 percent of the Russian people were living below the United Nations-defined poverty line.

Rising oil prices have made poverty decline to some extent, but Mr. Putin has made no effort to eradicate it altogether.

The opposition, having suffered from years of harassment at Mr. Putin’s hands, has not yet succeeded in taking advantage of today’s unstable situation.

But the recent outburst of public protest has flummoxed Mr. Putin, as he finds that his authoritarian government lacks the pressure valves that allow liberal democracies to anticipate and alleviate expressions of discontent.

Mr. Putin can no longer take his supremacy for granted.

It is not yet a revolutionary situation.

After all, Mr. Putin, like Mr. Yeltsin before him, can count on the money and pork-barrel politics needed to win the presidency next year; and he has no qualms about letting the security agencies use force.

But Russians, having sleepwalked away from Communism, are awakening to the idea that if they want democracy and social justice, they need to engage in active struggle.

Quiescent 20 years ago during Soviet Communism’s final days, they may at last be about to stand up for their rights.

Source: The New York Times

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Holidays From Kiev Ukraine News Blog

NORAD Santa Trackers Have Record Holiday

DENVER, USA -- Santa piled up more than presents this year — trackers at NORAD say he also broke records during his global mission Christmas Eve.

Volunteers take phone calls, averaging 8,000 an hour, and answer emails at the Volunteers at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado fielded just under 100,000 telephone queries about his progress late Saturday, breaking the previous mark of 80,000.

And his NORAD Facebook page approached one million "likes," compared with 716,000 a year ago.

Volunteers at NORAD Tracks Santa said kids started calling at 4 a.m. Saturday to find out where Santa was.

"The phones are ringing like crazy," Lt. Cmdr. Bill Lewis said Saturday.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command has been telling anxious children about Santa's whereabouts every year since 1955.

That was the year a Colorado Springs newspaper ad invited kids to call Santa on a hotline, but the number had a typo, and dozens of kids wound up talking to the Continental Aerospace Defense Command, NORAD's predecessor.

The officers on duty played along and began sharing reports on Santa's progress.

It's now a deep-rooted tradition at NORAD, a joint U.S.-Canada command that monitors the North American skies and seas from a control center at Peterson.

Officials said records set this year were likely generated by people passing the word as well as social media interest.

"I think what happens is that every year the ones the participated" tells others, Canadian Navy Lt. Al Blondin. "There's word of mouth."

After visiting many nations, Santa's first stop in the U.S. was in Atlanta. Blondin said.

The NORAD website said Santa then set a generally westward course, making numerous stops including Cleveland, Toronto, and Denver.

Blondin said he was expected to pass through Hawaii before his traditional last stops in Alaska before heading for home.

NORAD's Santa updates are blowing up on social media, too.

In addition to the website and Facebook and Twitter pages, Santa this year has a new tracking app for smart phones.

The app includes the Elf Toss, a game similar to Angry Birds.

Blondin said there had been more than 700,000 downloads.

First lady Michelle Obama was among the volunteers for a second year in a row.

She took about 10 calls from her family's holiday vacation in Hawaii.

Lewis said Obama's voice didn't throw any of the phoning children.

"They all just asked run-of-the-mill stuff. They wanted to know about Santa," Lewis said.

On the Net:

Source: AP

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Ukraine Art Heritage On Verge Of Oblivion

KIEV, Ukraine -- UNESCO experts have expressed their anxiety about the endangered historical monuments in Ukraine that are in a critical state of disrepair, Press TV reports.

St Michael's golden cathedral.

St Michael's golden cathedral and Kyiv Pechersk Lavra are among the religious and historical monuments in the European country that are almost near the edge of oblivion.

Experts are worried that as the monuments are often situated down town, they would be easily picked by the developers and construction companies.

“UNESCO again and again points to the problem of preserving heritage in Ukraine. This is a great shame for us that the UNESCO and other organizations raise the alarm. Of course they consider us as the barbarians who are unable to value the masterpieces,” Oleksandr Bryginets, a member of the Kiev City Council told Press TV.

Experts say the authorities cannot afford saving the country's historical heritage due to poverty, as the total reconstruction costs hundreds of millions of US dollars.

According to the experts, more than 50 art memorials in Kiev have disappeared from the city map in the recent years.

Source: PressTV