Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Ukrainian Sailors Tour USS Vella Gulf

SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine -– Ukrainian naval officers and sailors visited the guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) on Jan. 27 and 28, during a scheduled port visit.

This visit to Ukraine serves to continue U.S. 6th Fleet efforts to build global maritime partnerships with European nations and enhance maritime safety and security.

“We had a visit from the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Ukraine navy, Sergei Ryabstery, and about ten of his more senior chiefs,” said Vella Gulf’s command master chief, Sheila Langejans.

“He wanted to see how we manage our young sailors and how we work with them to grow as leaders and more productive technicians.”

After a lunch with Ukrainian and U.S. naval officers, Capt. Mark Harris, commanding officer of Vella Gulf, personally toured with Ukrainian navy Capt. Andrew Ryzhenko.

The tour continued the next day when Ukrainian sailors came aboard to view the different areas of the ship including the bridge, flight deck, mess halls and officers’ quarters.

“The Ukrainian sailors seemed to have a really good time,” said Ensign James Wolters.

“They were really impressed with the weapons and they really thought that the six-man officers’ berthings were extravagant. They all seemed very appreciative of the tour. It was a really pleasant experience.”

U.S. 6th Fleet continues to collaborate with the Ukrainian navy and other global maritime partners, increasing the collective capability of the region and enhancing overall maritime domain awareness in the Black Sea.

Vella Gulf, homeported out of Norfolk, Va., is conducting theater security cooperation and maritime security operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of responsibility.

Source: DVIDS

Daughter Of Ukrainian Ex-PM To Speak To US Senate

KIEV, Ukraine -- The daughter of Ukraine's jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko said Monday that she has been invited to address US senators as she campaigns to secure her mother's release.

Yevgeniya Carr will address the Senate's Subcommittee on European Affairs.

"I will deliver a speech" to the Senate's Subcommittee on European Affairs, 31-year-old Yevgeniya Carr, Tymoshenko's only child, told AFP by phone ahead of her visit to Washington.

"Our side will have an opportunity to tell the truth of how political prisoners are treated in Ukraine."

"We will spread as much as possible information about the way the country's authorities deal with their political opponents."

Senators are due to discuss the situation in Ukraine on Wednesday.

Yulia Tymoshenko is serving a seven-year jail sentence after a court convicted her of abuse of power, which she claimed was a political prosecution by her rival Viktor Yanukovych, who is now the president.

Yevgeniya Carr has already visited Berlin, Copenhagen, Paris and Strasbourg in the last month in an attempt to persuade Western governments to a tougher stance on her mother's imprisonment and put pressure on Ukrainian authorities.

"Pressure will only grow and then there will be more hope in her release," said Carr, adding that only Yanukovych can free Tymoshenko and other former officials that have been convicted, by issuing a pardon.

"Yanukovych can act to free mother even tomorrow, but that depends on his will and his desire to resolve this problem, which he himself created," she said.

Jailed in August prior to her October trial, Tymoshenko has claimed that her health has deteriorated.

Her case has sent Ukraine's relationship with the European Union to a new low.

Tymoshenko's husband Olexandr Tymoshenko was granted political asylum in the Czech Republic earlier this year.

Source: AFP

Ukraine Refuses Monumental Russian Gift

KIEV, Ukraine -- Kiev's city government spoke against installing a Russian-made monument to a tsarist statesman in the Ukrainian capital.

Pyotr Stolypin

The gift was proposed by Russian Culture Minister Alexander Avdeyev, who wanted to commemorate Pyotr Stolypin in connection with the anniversary of the statesman’s death.

Stolypin was shot dead by an assassin in Kiev in 1911.

But the proposal is “either a provocation or an extremely thoughtless move,” Alexander Briginets, head of Kiev legislature’s culture and tourism commission, said on Monday.

“Stolypin’s reforms destroyed Ukrainian peasantry and Ukrainian traditions, forced a large part of the nation to move to Siberia and bled Ukraine dry,” Briginets said, the country’s news agency UNIAN reported.

Avdeyev did not comment on the rejection as of late Monday.

Stolypin was one of the most controversial figures in the history of late tsarist regime, earning a dual reputation for his attempts to modernize Russian agriculture and industrial sector before World War I, but also for his ruthless crackdown on political opposition.

Part of his agrarian reform involved voluntary resettling of Russian and Ukrainian peasants to unused land in Siberia.

A memorial to Stolypin was erected in Kiev shortly after his assassination, but destroyed after the revolution of 1917.

The new monument was to be created by prolific Russian sculptor Zurab Tsereteli, whose reputation is the real reason why Kiev City Hall is opposing the gift, Kievpress.net reported in December.

Many of Tsereteli’s oeuvres are tens of meters in size and have sparked allegations of tastelessness.

A city official told Kievpress.net on condition of anonymity that the Kiev government intended to “fight [the gift] tooth and nail.”

Source: RIA Novosti

Monday, January 30, 2012

Winter Cold Snap Kills 36 In Eastern Europe

BELGRADE, Serbia -- Heavy snow and a severe cold snap have killed at least 36 people across eastern Europe and many areas were under emergency measures Monday as schools closed down, roads became impassible and power supplies were cut off.

A dog dressed in an overcoat waits as her owner chats with friends in central Kiev.

As temperatures dropped to around minus 20 Celsius (minus 4 Fahrenheit), authorities opened hundreds of emergency shelters across the region and urged people to be careful and stay indoors.

Police went searching for homeless people to make sure they didn't freeze to death.

Ukraine's Emergency Situations Ministry said 18 people died of hypothermia and nearly 500 people sought medical help for frostbites and hypothermia in just three days last week.

Twelve of the dead were homeless people whose bodies were discovered on the streets.

Temperatures in parts of Ukraine plunged to minus 16 C (3 F) during the day and minus 23 C (minus 10 F) during the night.

Authorities opened 1,500 shelters to provide food and heat and shut down schools and nurseries.

At least 10 people froze to death in Poland as the cold reached minus 26 C (minus 15 F) on Monday.

Malgorzata Wozniak, a spokeswoman for Poland's Interior Ministry, told The Associated Press that elderly people and the homeless were among the dead and police were checking unheated empty buildings to corral the homeless into shelters.

Until now, Poland had been having a mild winter with little snow and temperatures just below freezing.

In central Serbia, three people died and two more were missing and 14 municipalities were operating under emergency decrees.

Efforts to clear roads of snow were hampered by strong winds and dozens of towns faced power outages.

Police said one woman froze to death in a snowstorm in a central Serbian village, while two elderly men were found dead, one in the snow outside his home.

Further south, emergency crews are searching for two men in their 70s who are feared dead.

In Romania, local media reported four people had died due to the frigid weather.

Hungry dogs and puppies near the Romanian capital of Bucharest got a helping hand after a dozen prison inmates shoveled snow Monday to unblock paths to a stray dog shelter housing 300 dogs.

The strays had been frozen in after snowstorms and icy weather swept Romania.

Bucharest is home to some 50,000 stray dogs.

In neighboring Bulgaria, a 57-year-old man froze to death in a northwestern village and emergency decrees were declared in 25 of the country's 28 districts.

In the capital of Sofia, authorities handed out hot tea and placed homeless people in emergency shelters.

Strong winds also closed down Bulgaria's main Black Sea port of Varna.

In the Czech capital of Prague, city authorities worked to set up tents for an estimated 3,000 homeless people.

Freezing temperatures also damaged train tracks, slowing railway traffic.

Source: Herald Tribune

Yanukovych’s 2012 Challenge

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych must come up with a clear, strategic plan as soon as possible in order to face the country`s political and economic challenges, says Amanda Paul of the European Policy Centre in Brussels.

Viktor Yanukovych

Ukraine enters 2012 facing many challenges but some opportunities too.

Co-hosting the 2012 Euro Football championship with Poland offers Ukraine’s leadership a golden opportunity to showcase the country.

However, at the same time, Ukraine faces serious problems both domestically and in its foreign policy, which require a coherent, dynamic and strategic approach.

On the foreign policy front, Ukraine is in muddied waters with both the EU and Russia.

Ukraine is desperately trying to find an exit strategy from the “gas contract from hell” negotiated been former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in 2009 which has left Kiev now having to pay $515 per 1000 cubic metros.

Meanwhile, the EU has, to all intents and purposes, issued Ukraine with an ultimatum if it want to progress with its EU integration process.

With concerns over the prosecution and imprisonment of Tymoshenko and other members of her former cabinet, and an erosion of democratic standards (recently underlined in the 2011 Freedom House report), the EU – for rightly or wrongly - has told Ukraine the following:

"If you want to proceed to the signature and ratification of the Association Agreement and integrated Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement which the partners finalised in December 2011, you must improve democracy, the rule of law, etc."

The main litmus test will be Ukraine’s 28 October Parliamentary elections.

If they do not meet the international standards (or come close) it seems unlikely that the EU will sign the agreement.

While this situation represents a big headache for Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, at the same time he is also preoccupied with state of Ukraine’s economy and how it may affect voters.

Ukraine’s economy has been in trouble since 2008 and remains extremely vulnerable.

While GDP growth was 5.3% in 2011, according to a statement by Prime Minister Mykola Azarov at the end of November, it is set to shrink in 2012.

This is partially due to Ukraine`s economy being dominated by steel exports, making it volatile to global demand fluctuations.

The EU, with its shrinking economy and recession, is one of its main export markets.

The situation was exacerbated in 2011 by a rupture in relations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) when a $15 billion loan was frozen as a consequence of Yanukovych refusing to increase the price of household gas.

The deteriorating economic-social situation has contributed to his drop in support.

In an effort to turn Ukraine’s financial woes around, and give him something to “sell” by the elections, Yanukovych has moved Valeriy Khoroshkovskiy from Ukraine’s Security Service to head the Ministry of Finance, replacing the beleaguered Fedir Yaroshenko.

Khoroshkovskiy, who was economy minister between 2002-2004, has a reputation of being efficient and well-organised and during his time as Head of the SBU drug trafficking was reduced, border management improved and significant efforts were made in the fight against organised crime, as reported in the EU’s assessment of Ukraine’s progress towards a visa-free regime.

Furthermore, as a trusted ally of the president, he has been given almost carte blanche to do whatever is necessary breath new life back into the economy and drive forward economic reforms.

Having the IMF money will immediately offer Ukraine some breathing space.

However, the IMF have already made it clear that there will be no short cuts and it seems unlikely that the decision regarding gas prices will be reversed.

With spring around the corner and Ukrainian’s becoming more savvy on home insulation, a rise later in the spring should not be totally ruled out.

After the IMF, it is rumoured that Khoroshkovskiy will travel to Brussels to give EU top brass a “heads up” on his plans.

Indeed Khoroshkovsky will have to work around the clock to meet Ukraine’s economic challenges and make inroads into his list of priorities which seem to include bringing order to Ukraine’s public finances, stamping out programmes that do not bring an increase in GDP, prioritising programmes related to reforms and stepping up efforts to attack corruption and reduce Ukraine’s massive grey economy.

There is also an urgent need to take steps to improve Ukraine’s investment climate in order to make it friendlier for foreign investment and for home-grown entrepreneurs.

This could include taking another look at Ukraine’s new, yet controversial, tax law and amending property rights.

Khoroshkovsky’s appointment may be the first of a wider government shake-up with other senior positions likely to change in the near future in the hope of shoring up more public support and try to un-do some of the mistakes of the past.

This will not be easy as Ukraine’s leadership is on a very slippery slope."

Source: Euractiv

Chernobyl Tours Offered To Euro 2012 Fans

CHERNOBYL, Ukraine -- Tour operators are pitching side trips to Chernobyl to fans who converge on Ukraine for the Euro 2012 soccer tournament this summer.

The ruins of Chernobyl.

Euro 2012 doesn't start until June but tour companies have already begun pitching visits to the shuttered nuclear power plant that exploded in 1986, spewing radiation across the entire area.

Britain's Sunday Mirror said the tours include a visit to the ghost town of Pripyat and a chance to pose for pictures in front of the crippled and now-cold Reactor Number Four.

The radiation levels in Chernobyl have decreased to the point that short visits are possible, and England supporters will be able to do so for 250 pounds ($392.63).

Chernobyl isn't the only Soviet-era attraction awaiting Euro 2012 visitors.

Tourists can also tour old missile silos and even the proverbial salt mines in Donetsk, the town where the British team will be based.

Source: UPI

Norway Offers Gas To Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Norway is considering supplying natural gas to Ukraine as an alternative to Russian natural gas supplies, a Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy expert said on Thursday.

“If our potential partners from Ukraine turn to us for immediate aid, we’ll no doubt render it."

"Export prices of gas transported form Norway will be calculated on maximally privileged terms for Kiev,” Ingmar Sundstrom said in an interview with the Ukrainian news agency GolosUA.

Norway currently holds hundreds of thousands of cubic metes of natural gas in its storage facilities, which Ukraine will be able to use day and night, Sundstrom said.

Transit costs would be high however, he said, due to the absence of a direct pipeline between the two countries and relatively high costs for gas transportation by sea or land.

Ukraine has been seeking a revision in the 2009 gas deal with Russia since last spring, saying that the contract's gas price formula is unfair.

Russia has tied the price for gas to the international spot price for oil, which has been rising strongly recently due to the instability in the Middle East.

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

Source: RIA Novosti

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Some Day My Prince Will Come... To Ukraine: Russian-Scottish 'Royal' Seeks Love Match On TV's The Bachelor

LONDON, England -- He is a descendant of Russia's last czar. Now Scottish photographer Francis Mathew is in a new adventure: finding a bride on a reality TV show in Ukraine.

Scottish photographer Francis Mathew.

Mathew, the great-great-nephew of Nicholas II, is the star of the second season of Ukraine's version of the popular U.S. show The Bachelor - in which an unmarried man picks a fiancee through a series of dates and romantic getaways.

'I've been very lucky in life, but very unlucky in love,' the 33-year-old, who comes across as a romantic behind bad-boy looks, told The Associated Press in an interview.

'I am actually ready for a proper relationship, I have been for a couple of years," he said.

"I am pretty fussy when it comes to choosing a longterm girlfriend, it's very difficult to find someone to be compatible with.'

As many as 16,000 young women from across Ukraine and beyond auditioned to compete for the heart of "a prince" - as Mathew is billed by the show's producers, even though he has no royal title.

Twenty-five contestants were selected for the show, also called 'The Bachelor' in Ukrainian, and some have gotten into shouting matches and even fights over who gets to spend more time with him, according to the STB Channel, which is set to air the show in March.

The 12 episodes, which are currently being filmed in Ukraine, Finland, Sri Lanka and elsewhere, entail romantic dinners, a helicopter ride and Mathew taking on a 350-kilogram (750-pound) bull as a matador.

Mathew speaks little Ukrainian or Russian, so both he and the contestants wear earpieces and rely on simultaneous translation.

'Honestly, the concept is crazy, absolutely crazy,' Mathew said.

'You have to be of a certain mindset to enter a contest like that, I think it takes courage.'

But he says he has met attractive and interesting women on the show and hopes to fall in love.

'Love works in very mysterious ways,' Mathew said. 'It does come from the most random places sometimes, the most unexpected places, so why not TV?'

The odds of finding true love, however, appear to be against Mathew.

His predecessor on the show, a Ukrainian-American ballroom dancer, split with his newfound fiancee shortly after it ended last summer.

Only one of the 15 seasons of The Bachelor in the U.S. resulted in marriage.

Mathew is the son of Princess Olga Andreevna Romanov, 61, whose father, Prince Andrei Alexandrovich, was the nephew of Nicholas II, Russia's last czar.

Nicholas II was assassinated by the Bolsheviks shortly after the 1917 Revolution together with his wife and children.

Mathew's grandfather was able to escape and settled in Britain.

Born in London and raised in Scotland, Mathew decided against going to university and chose to become a stuntman instead.

He spent more than five years studying martial arts and other sports, while working in landscape gardening to pay for his living.

Stunt acting 'was my childhood dream,' Matthew said.

'I was always a very adventurous child ... I climbed every building I could jump off. I used to do crazy things.'

But the training ended after he badly injured his ankle on a trampoline and Mathew found a new passion in photography.

He photographed jungle animals while living in a mud hut in Cameroon and spent over three years in India working as a fashion photographer.

While in India he also played villains in Bollywood movies and starred in commercials, including for chewing gum and an airline company.

Mathew says he has been in love before, but his lifestyle prevented him from settling down.

His most romantic relationship, incidentally, was with a Ukrainian girl.

'Whenever I've met somebody who I either fall in love with or have a great connection with, either she is leaving or I am leaving,' he said.

This time he is hoping for a happy ending.

Source: Mail Online

Human Trafficking A Dangerous Reality

TORONTO, Canada -- Alla Halych's research is helpful in showing that human trafficking is a problem worth addressing. In the movie The Whistleblower, an American police officer turned peacekeeper uncovers a sex trafficking operation in post-war Bosnia.

Alla Halych

Although viewers want to believe this is just a movie, the sad truth is that trafficking in human beings is a very real problem in the world, a reality the people of Ukraine know too well.

“Since 1991, more than 110,000 Ukrainians have become victims to human trafficking,” said Alla Halych, an advocate for victims of human trafficking .

Citing research commissioned by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Ukraine, she added, “This makes the Ukraine one of the largest suppliers of slave labour in Europe.”

Halych visited the University of Toronto’s Jacyk Program for the study of Ukraine and Centre for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies (CERES) recently to present her talk, Trafficking in Human Beings in Ukraine: Latest Statistics, New Trends, Building the National Referral Mechanism.

The former project co-ordinator in the Ukraine for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Halych said that while women and children are most often the victims of trafficking, the number of men being exploited is on the rise.

“A new trend in the gender structure of trafficking has been observed recently,” she said.

“The number of men being trafficked has increased from 14 per cent in 2004 to almost 34 per cent in 2010.”

Generally, men are trafficked for the purpose of forced labour in places such as Russia and Turkey where they work on construction sites or in agriculture, usually without pay and in dire conditions.

Women and minors are usually trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, participation in criminal activities, begging and even organ removal.

Unfortunately, prosecution rates don’t reflect the enormity of the trafficking problem.

In 2010, there were 337 criminal cases in Ukraine with only 85 resulting in verdicts.

However, Halych pointed out that a successful verdict doesn’t mean comparable punishment.

“Most cases result in only a fine,” she said.

Svitlana Frunchak, program officer and Ukrainian programs manager at CERES, said Halych’s work provides valuable documentation.

“The field of human trafficking, and particularly in eastern Europe, is very important as well as under-researched,” she said.

Recently, Halych was involved with establishing a framework, the National Referral Mechanism, designed to help the Ukrainian government identify and refer trafficked persons for assistance, protect their rights and ensure their access to justice.

She has also been working on a project called, Human Trafficking from the Former Eastern Bloc to Canada, with U of T alumna Natalya Timoshkina, a professor in Social Work at Lakehead University-Orillia.

This project has a number of goals: to assess human trafficking from the former Eastern Bloc to and through Canada; to determine how existing non-governmental organizations (NGO) are responding to the problem; and, to facilitate the establishment of partnerships between counter-trafficking NGOs in Canada, the United States and the former Eastern Bloc.

“Hopefully the work of professionals and activists like Alla Halych will spur interest in this field among academics as well as the public and, ultimately initiate some changes of the unfortunate situation described by Ms. Halych,” said Frunchak.

Source: Health Canal

Topless Protesters At Davos Forum: Three Shirtless Ukrainian Women Detained

DAVOS, Switzerland — Three topless Ukrainian protesters were detained Saturday while trying to break into an invitation-only gathering of international CEOs and political leaders to call attention to the needs of the world's poor.

Swiss police detained three women who tried to stage a topless protest at the World Economic Forum.

Separately, demonstrators from the Occupy movement marched to the edge of the gathering.

After a complicated journey to reach the heavily guarded Swiss resort town of Davos, the Ukrainians arrived at the entrance to the complex where the World Economic Forum takes place every year.

With temperatures around freezing in the snow-filled town, they took off their tops and tried to climb a fence before being detained.

"Crisis! Made in Davos," read one message painted across a protester's torso, while others held banners that said "Poor, because of you" and "Gangsters party in Davos."

Davos police spokesman Thomas Hobi said the three women were taken to the police station and told that they weren't allowed to demonstrate.

He said they would be released later Saturday.

The activists are from the group Femen, which has become popular in Ukraine for staging small, half-naked protests to highlight a range of issues including oppression of political opposition.

They have also conducted protests in some other countries.

"We came here to Switzerland to Davos to explain the position of all poor people of the world, to explain that we are poor because of these rich people who now sit in the building," said Inna Schevchenko.

Protesters from the Occupy movement that started with opposition to practices on Wall Street held a separate demonstration in Davos on Saturday.

A small group of protesters are camped in igloos in Davos to call for more help for the needy.

About 40 Occupy protesters gathered in front of the town hall.

Some held placards with slogans such as "If voting would change anything, it would be illegal" and "Don't let them decide for you, Occupy WEF."

They then marched toward the forum, prompting about a dozen police officers to hastily erect a mobile barrier as Saturday shoppers looked on with bemusement.

The demonstrators chanted anti-capitalist slogans, remaining about 100 feet (30 meters) from police lines.

One member of the Occupy camp was invited to speak at a special event outside the forum on Friday night to discuss the future of capitalism.

British opposition leader Ed Miliband was also speaking.

Soon after the panel discussion began, some activists in the audience jumped up and started chanting slogans, and the protester panelist walked off the stage.

Other members of the audience told the activists to "shut up" and arguments disrupted the panel for about 20 minutes.

The discussion then resumed, without the Occupy panelist.

Source: Huff Post

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Israel Refuses Extradition In Ukraine Murder

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's prosecutor general says Israel is refusing to extradite a former presidential bodyguard charged with abuse of office after claiming his boss plotted the murder of an investigative journalist.

Mykola Melnychenko

Mykola Melnychenko released tapes in which former President Leonid Kuchma is allegedly heard conspiring against Heorhiy Gongadze, who exposed high-level corruption.

Gongadze's beheaded body was found in a forest outside Kiev in November 2000.

A Ukrainian court cleared Kuchma of involvement last year, while Melnychenko was charged with abuse of office and divulging state secrets, prompting him to flee to Israel.

Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka told the Interfax news agency Friday that Israel has refused to extradite Melnychenko.

Source: AP

Ukraine, Russia “Doomed” To Gas Compromise - Yanukovych

DAVOS, Switzerland -- Ukraine hopes to find a solution to the gas dispute with Russia soon, President Viktor Yanukovych said on Friday in Davos at the World Economic Forum.

Viktor Yanukovych says Ukraine is pushing for gas price revision with Russia, to no avail.

“Ukraine pays the world’s highest gas price. No one pays a price for gas like the price Ukraine has [to pay]. I have repeatedly asked the question to myself, our Russian partners and all who directly dealt with the 2009 contract: ‘Why and for what was Ukraine punished?’” Yanukovych said.

“No one has found an answer to this question for me. We will have to find an answer to it as soon as possible,” the Ukrainian president said.

“We have been negotiating for two years. We, both Russia and Ukraine, realize that we are ‘doomed’ to make the decision, find a compromise. The process is ongoing but there’s no solution yet,” he said.

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.

Ukraine will have to pay some $416 per cubic meter of Russian gas in 2012. Kiev insists the price and volume of its gas imports should be reduced.

Yanukovych said Ukraine has considerably cut Russian gas consumption volumes and will continue following that path, seeking ways to diversify energy supplies.

“The situation in the gas sector for Ukraine bears all the hallmarks of a threat to national security, without exaggeration,” he said.

In October 2011, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was found guilty of abuse of office when she signed gas deals with Russia in 2009.

She was sentenced to seven years in jail and was ordered to pay $187 million in damages to the Naftogaz company.

Tymoshenko said the charges against her were President Viktor Yanukovych's political revenge, which he denied.

Tymoshenko’s supporters say the prosecution is politically motivated.

The Ukrainian authorities deny the accusations.

On Friday, Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said the gas talks with Russia were very difficult.

“Very difficult talks are being held with Russians, who believe this contract is, like [Russian energy giant Gazprom CEO Alexei] Miller said, made of reinforced concrete,” Azarov said on Friday at a meeting with labor union representatives.

“What can we use to break reinforced concrete?”Azarov asked them. “We are trying to find a proper tool now.”

The premier said a number of important decisions were made at a recent meeting of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council: to reduce gas consumption, to develop energy saving technology and diversify the fuel supply routes.

“This is our hammer drill answer to Russia,” he said.

Source: RIA Novosti

Ukraine, Russia To Launch 2 Dnepr Carrier Rockets In 2012

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine and Russia will carry out two rocket launches under the joint Dnepr space program, head of the National Space Agency of Ukraine Yuri Alekseyev said on Friday.

Moscow has recently decided to continue the implementation of the joint Russian-Ukrainian program to use decommissioned RS-20 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) in commercial space launches under the Dnepr program.

“We are planning to carry out two launches [this year],” Alekseyev told reporters in Kiev.

“The first, with a Korean KOMPSAT-5 satellite, is tentatively scheduled for April-May…and probably in September or October we will have a launch with a large number of Arab satellites,” he said.

Alekseyev said the price of the launches would be the subject of negotiations with the Russian Defense Ministry.

“We want to lower the price, they want to make it higher, and that's natural because it’s a market economy,” he said.

The RS-20, classified by NATO as the SS-18 Satan, is the most powerful ICBM in the world.

It was first launched in 1973 and is still in service with Russia's Strategic Missile Forces (SMF).

RS-20 missiles are being gradually removed from the Russian arsenal and converted into Dnepr launch vehicles.

Alekseyev said Ukrainian experts continue to take part in the maintenance of the remaining 52 Satan missiles in service with Russia’s SMF.

Source: RIA Novosti

Ukraine’s President Firm Against Tymoshenko Despite EU Criticism Of Her Case

DAVOS, Switzerland -- Ukraine’s president showed no mercy Friday for imprisoned former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, despite increasing fears that her case will hurt his country’s struggling economy and its relations with the European Union.

Viktor Yanukovych

The gas contract with Russia that was the premise for Tymoshenko’s conviction “is Ukraine’s biggest problem today,” President Viktor Yanukovych said at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.

He added that he foresaw more judicial troubles for the ex-premier.

Tymoshenko, a bitter rival of the current president, is serving a 7-year sentence on charges of abuse of office in a case the West has condemned as politically motivated.

Her family accuses prison authorities of denying her proper medical care.

Tymoshenko was found guilty last year of overstepping her authority while negotiating the natural gas import contract with Russia in 2009.

Authorities say the contract was not in Ukraine’s economic interest.

She charges that Yanukovych has ordered her imprisonment in order to bar her from elections.

Yanukovych’s presence at the forum in Davos was aimed at attracting investment from international CEOs at the invitation-only event, but his comments about Tymoshenko did little to soothe concerns about doing business in Ukraine.

Ukraine “cannot hope to attract investment if the law doesn’t apply,” Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said.

He told The Associated Press that a landmark cooperation deal between Ukraine and the EU is “dead in the water” as long as Tymoshenko is jailed.

But Tymoshenko’s jailing is a dilemma for the EU.

Some experts believe the bloc should not be partners with a government that throws opposition leaders in jail.

Others say that snubbing Ukraine would push it back under Russia’s influence as Kiev is courting Moscow for cheaper natural gas.

Tymoshenko rose to fame during Ukraine’s 2004 popular uprising.

She became an opposition leader after losing the premiership in 2010.

Yanukovych has made membership in the 27-nation EU a top priority, but exhibited little sign Friday that he was ready to concede on the Tymoshenko case.

The state security service has launched a slew of new criminal investigations against Tymoshenko since her conviction, probes that Yanukovych defended.

“The Ukrainian part of the crimes committed by people who were in one way or another connected to Tymoshenko have not been fully investigated,” he said — adding that the cases will go to court soon.

Yanukovych was cold to efforts to adopt changes to the criminal code that would allow the former prime minister to be freed.

“That is up to the parliament,” he said.

The parliament is dominated by his supporters.

Source: AP

Friday, January 27, 2012

Prosecutor General: Tymoshenko Could Be Questioned In 'Lazarenko Case'

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka has said that after former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko returns from the United States, investigators will question former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko as part of the "Lazarenko case."

Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko

"The investigators will have questions for Tymoshenko if Lazarenko appears. Abuse, fraud and other issues are not very comfortable for Tymoshenko in the context of what has to be proved, whether she was an accomplice in crime or not," he said in an exclusive interview to Interfax- Ukraine.

Pshonka said that if Lazarenko returns to Ukraine, the investigating authorities will be obliged to detain him, announce the indictment, interrogate him and then bring him to court to decide on choosing the measure of restraint for him.

"The questions for Lazarenko concern the crimes of which he is accused. And he is accused of abuse of office while holding senior positions and serving as Ukraine's deputy prime minister and prime minister."

"Damages of UAH 4 million ($0.5 million) were caused to state interests."

"He also is accused of misappropriating another's property and budget funds worth more than $15 million and UAH 20 million ($2.5 million), as well as receiving a bribe of over $100 million, and being involved in the organization of premeditated murders," Pshonka said.

He said that he did not know whether Lazarenko would come to Ukraine after serving his prison sentence in the United States and whether investigators would contact him.

"We don't know whether he will stay in America and whether there will be contact with him, or whether he will come here, or it will be permitted to question him there..."

"In the Lazarenko case there are reasons to question Lazarenko along with Tymoshenko, as well as having face-to-face meetings," Pshonka said.

As reported, a new criminal case was opened against Tymoshenko on October 12, 2011 for laying the burden of the debts of the United Energy Systems of Ukraine (UESU) corporation on the Ukrainian budget.

The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) said that the reason for launching a new criminal case against the former Ukrainian prime minister was a letter from the Russian Defense Ministry to the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, which raised the issue of repaying the corporation's debt of $405.5 million.

The ex-premier's defense team has challenged in court the decision to open the criminal case.

Lazarenko was charged in the United States with laundering money obtained illegally and transferring it to foreign bank accounts in 1994-1999.

In August 2006, he was sentenced by a court in California to nine years in prison for money laundering and other crimes.

He is under house arrest at his apartment in San Francisco.

In June 2011, Lazarenko's custody period was reduced by seven months, to January 11, 2012.

It was reported in August 2011, citing Chris Burke, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, that Lazarenko is to be released from prison in the United States on November 1, 2012, rather than on January 11, 2012, as was planned earlier.

On August 4, 2011, Lazarenko was transferred from the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Dublin (California) to FCI Terminal Island, a low-security prison for men (also in California).

Source: Interfax

Romanov Descendant Looks For Love On Ukraine Show

KIEV, Ukraine -- He is a descendant of Russia's last czar — and has lived in the jungle, starred in Bollywood movies and trained as a stuntman.

Francis Mathew

Now Scottish photographer Francis Mathew is in a new adventure: finding a bride on a reality TV show in Ukraine.

Mathew, the great-great-nephew of Nicholas II, is the star of the second season of Ukraine's version of the popular U.S. show "The Bachelor" — in which an unmarried man picks a fiancee through a series of dates and romantic getaways.

"I've been very lucky in life, but very unlucky in love," the 33-year-old, who comes across as a romantic behind bad-boy looks, told The Associated Press in an interview.

"I am actually ready for a proper relationship, I have been for a couple of years," he said.

"I am pretty fussy when it comes to choosing a longterm girlfriend, it's very difficult to find someone to be compatible with."

As many as 16,000 young women from across Ukraine and beyond auditioned to compete for the heart of "a prince" — as Mathew is billed by the show's producers, even though he has no royal title.

Twenty-five contestants were selected for the show, also called "The Bachelor" in Ukrainian, and some have gotten into shouting matches and even fights over who gets to spend more time with him, according to the STB Channel, which is set to air the show in March.

The 12 episodes, which are currently being filmed in Ukraine, Finland, Sri Lanka and elsewhere, entail romantic dinners, a helicopter ride and Mathew taking on a 350-kilogram (750-pound) bull as a matador.

Mathew speaks little Ukrainian or Russian, so both he and the contestants wear earpieces and rely on simultaneous translation.

He hopes the project will help him reconnect with his Slavic roots.

Matthew admits that the show, in which he eliminates women one by one based on their date performance until he proposes to one of the two finalists, may be provocative.

"Honestly, the concept is crazy, absolutely crazy," Mathew said.

"You have to be of a certain mindset to enter a contest like that, I think it takes courage."

But he says he has met attractive and interesting women on the show and hopes to fall in love.

"Love works in very mysterious ways," Mathew said.

"It does come from the most random places sometimes, the most unexpected places, so why not TV?"

The odds of finding true love, however, appear to be against Mathew.

His predecessor on the show, a Ukrainian-American ballroom dancer, split with his newfound fiancee shortly after it ended last summer.

Only one of the 15 seasons of "The Bachelor" in the U.S. resulted in marriage.

Mathew is the son of Princess Olga Andreevna Romanov, 61, whose father, Prince Andrei Alexandrovich, was the nephew of Nicholas II, Russia's last czar.

Nicholas II was assassinated by the Bolsheviks shortly after the 1917 Revolution together with his wife and children.

Mathew's grandfather was able to escape and settled in Britain.

Born in London and raised in Scotland, Mathew decided against going to university and chose to become a stuntman instead.

He spent more than five years studying martial arts and other sports, while working in landscape gardening to pay for his living.

Stunt acting "was my childhood dream," Matthew said.

"I was always a very adventurous child ... I climbed every building I could jump off. I used to do crazy things."

But the training ended after he badly injured his ankle on a trampoline and Mathew found a new passion in photography.

He photographed jungle animals while living in a mud hut in Cameroon and spent over three years in India working as a fashion photographer.

While in India he also played villains in Bollywood movies and starred in commercials, including for chewing gum and an airline company.

Mathew says he has been in love before, but his lifestyle prevented him from settling down.

His most romantic relationship, incidentally, was with a Ukrainian girl.

"Whenever I've met somebody who I either fall in love with or have a great connection with, either she is leaving or I am leaving," he said.

This time he is hoping for a happy ending.

"I am not in love at this point, but there is definitely potential to fall in love," he said.

"Have I kissed a girl? You have to watch and find out."

Source: AP

Ukrainian Media Publish Full List Of Tymoshenko's Violations

KIEV, Ukraine -- Full description of the economic crimes that Yulia Tymoshenko is arrested and trialed for has been published by Obozrevatel citing a source in the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU).

Yulia Tymoshenko

The Kharkiv department of the Security Service completed investigation in the case.

The former Prime Minister of Ukraine Yulia Tymoshenko has been charged with violations worth USD 20 million.

The charges against Yulia Tymoshenko include embezzlement of state funds in excess of UAH 14 million (equivalent of USD $7 million at the time - ed.), VAT evasion in the amount of UAH 4.7 million (USD $2.3 million), attempted embezzlement of UAH 11 million (USD $5.5 million) in VAT reimbursement, forgery and tax evasion for not paying UAH 681 thousand in personal income tax.

In the course of the investigation it was established that in 1996-1997 the Industrial Financial Corporation United Energy Systems of Ukraine (UESU), headed by Tymoshenko, purchased metal products from domestic producers and exported them to Russia instead of foreign offshore companies (controlled by Tymoshenko and her family) whose addresses were indicated in the export documents.

In order to create an illusion of return of foreign currency earnings to Ukraine Tymoshenko together with UESU top management and personnel of the Joint Stock Bank Pivdenkombank, where she was a president, forged financial statements.

Such scheme allowed the perpetrators to illegally claim VAT reimbursement of UAH 30 million (USD $15 million) from the state budget.

Yuliya Tymoshenko is also accused of not paying of UAH 681 thousand in income tax on USD $1 million she received onto her bank card in 1996-1998 while being a member of Ukrainian Parliament.

In 1995-1997 Tymoshenko facilitated UESU's VAT evasion totaling UAH 10 million by increasing the purchasing price on paper for 34 billion cubic meters of Russian gas.

Besides the listed accusations, Yulia Tymoshenko was found guilty of concealing USD $165 million profits but the criminal case has been closed due to decriminalization of the respective paragraph of the Criminal Code of Ukraine.

According to the currently conducted investigations, Yulia Tymoshenko administered her subordinates in UESU to make unjustified transfer of funds to United Energy International Limited (company within Tymoshenko's control).

It was established that the following sums were wired: USD $944,683,245.63, GBP 30,833,509.91, and DEM 269,304.

Source: The Sacramento Bee

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Suspicious Death Reported In Kiev Prison

KIEV, Ukraine -- An unidentified man died under unclear circumstances at the same Kiev prison where Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko had been kept for five months before her transfer to another prison last month.

The death of the 21-year-old man, who was under investigation for alleged theft, was first reported by Kostiantyn Usov, an investigative reporter with TVi television, on his blog on Wednesday.

The death raises fresh concerns over safety of Tymoshenko, a former prime minister who has been sentenced in October 2011 to seven years in prison for abusing authority while negotiating a 10-year natural gas contract with Russia in January 2009.

Tymoshenko has long complained about getting inadequate medical treatment at the prison.

Her lawyer, Serhiy Vlasenko, said she had suffered from severe back pain.

Usov reported that he received a phone call in the middle of the night from his undisclosed contact at the prison who said the administration of the Lukyanivska detention facility had been refusing for 40 minutes to provide medical help to the man who had suffered from severe pain.

“The man, who never had a guilty verdict from any court, had been lying on the floor for 40 minutes suffering in convulsions,” Usov said.

“Endless cries for help from fellow prisoners had not been answered as drunken medical prison personnel had been watching through a small window in the door and laughing.”

Only hours later, the state authority that supervises prisons across the country, has issued a statement admitting that the man had died at the Lukyanivska prison at 22:30 on Tuesday.

The authority cited electrocution as the cause of death.

“Three minutes after [the electrocution] prison guards arrived, and later medical personnel, who, unfortunately, declared the young man dead,” the authority said in the statement.

But even before the statement was issued, Usov said that his sources have told him that the prison administration has been trying to “fabricate” evidence that the man was fatally electrocuted.

Later in the day, Anatoliy Melnyk, the chief Kiev prosecutor, ordered investigation into the death of the man at the detention facility.

The Kiev prosecutor office reported that the man had been trying to fix a broken electric outlet in the prison cell that had led to the electrocution.

Source: Ukrainian Journal

Ukraine Says It Can House Euro 2012 Fans

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian officials are playing down any problems with accommodating up to 700,000 fans during the European Championship in June.

Markian Lubkivsky, the head of the Euro 2012 organizing committee in Ukraine, said on Thursday that "Ukraine has enough rooms."

Ukraine, however, has received many complaints that hotel rooms are either unavailable or too expensive.

Officials have had to resort to measures such as putting up tents for fans and remodeling student dormitories.

Even so, a hostel bed in the eastern city of Kharkiv may cost about €250 ($330), according to organizers.

Source: AP

US Warship Calls At Ukrainian Port Amid Protests

SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine -- A U.S. guided missile cruiser stopped at the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Sevastopol on Thursday with a group of some 100 protesters chanting “Yankee, go home!” and “No to NATO".

USS Vella Gulf

The USS Vella Gulf (CG 72), a Ticonderoga class guided missile cruiser, is on a mission in the Black Sea and is to visit the ports of Constanta, Sevastopol and Odessa.

It carries 26 Tomahawk cruise missiles with a range of up to 3,000 kilometers and has elements of a missile defense system on board.

The protesters also burned a U.S. flag featuring Nazi swastika instead of stars.

Yevhen Dubovik, a protest organizer, said the visit was illegal because it had not been authorized by Ukraine’s parliament.

“Nevertheless, a warship has called here that has offensive weapons on board and it is not ruled out that if it receives orders it will deliver a strike onIran in close proximity to our coast,” he said.

“Thus Ukraine, a state not affiliated with any military blocs, may automatically become involved in an international conflict.”

The USS Vella Gulf is to remain in Sevastopol until January 31.

A number of joint tactical exercises with Ukrainian naval units have been planned.

Source: RIA Novosti

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Chelsea Clinton Promotes Philanthropy In Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Chelsea Clinton is urging young Ukrainians to engage in philanthropy and civic activism.

Chelsea Clinton, daughter of former US President Bill Clinton speaks during a public discussion with Ukrainian students in Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012.

The daughter of former U.S. President Bill Clinton and current Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told a group of Ukrainian university students in Kiev Tuesday that being engaged in the world is "part of being a good person."

The 31-year-old Clinton said there is always a gap between what the government and the private sector can provide, and that gap must be filled by the work of charity and non-governmental organizations.

Clinton is pursuing a doctorate at Oxford and does philanthropic work for the Clinton Foundation and Clinton Global Initiative.

She recently took up a job as a correspondent for the U.S. television network NBC.

Source: AP

Embassy Official: French President’s Son Hospitalized In Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine — The son of French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been hospitalized in the Black Sea city of Odessa, the French Embassy said Wednesday.

Pierre Sarkozy

Pierre Sarkozy, a rap producer in his twenties, has been taken to a hospital after feeling ill, French Embassy spokesman Emmanuel Berard told The Associated Press.

He did not provide any more details.

Sarkozy, also known as DJ Mosay, was in Odessa to perform at an elite club called Tchaikovsky on Tuesday, said a worker at the club, who declined to give his name.

But Sarkozy never showed up and the show was canceled, the worker said.

Sarkozy is the French president’s oldest son by his first wife, Marie-Dominique Culioli.

Source: The Washington Post

New PACE President Concerned About Tymoshenko Case In Ukraine

STRASBOURG, France -- PACE President-elect Jean-Claude Mignon has said he is concerned about the case of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, and that he believes that Ukraine should follow the European standards in the field of democracy and the rule of law.

PACE President-elect Jean-Claude Mignon.

He said at a press conference after his election as PACE president that he planned to discuss these issues with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kostiantyn Hryschenko during the latter's visit to Strasbourg.

"After the foreign minister arrives in Strasbourg, I intend to meet with him to … say, in particular, that Ukraine is a great country. I respect Ukraine, but I do not understand how Yulia Tymoshenko was convicted," he said.

Mignon said that he had the opportunity to meet Tymoshenko in Kiev before she was imprisoned.

"Now I'm extremely concerned that a state in which a woman who held the highest position in Ukraine can put her in prison. The president and the PACE, especially the PACE, should remain very worried, of course, without interfering in the activity of the judicial system in Ukraine," he said.

Mignon reiterated that Ukraine is a great and independent country.

"I believe that in order to become more European, this country should meet our standards, in particular, in democracy, the rule of law, and we should not see such courts that are reminiscent of the era of the former Soviet Union, which we have already forgotten," he said.

He also apologized for "being so outspoken."

"My duty is to sincerely express my point of view. I will maintain my friendship with Ukraine," Mignon said.

Source: Interfax

Ukraine Says Has Enough Gas For Winter

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine, which this month announced plans to cut Russian gas imports, said on Tuesday it had enough fuel to run heating stations throughout the cold season.

Neighbouring Russia, which ships large volumes of gas across Ukraine to Europe, has in the past accused Kiev of siphoning gas from the transit pipelines for domestic needs in extremely cold weather.

Ukraine is also at odds with Russia over the price and volume of gas supplies and such disputes briefly disrupted European supplies in 2006 and 2009.

Playing down fears of fresh disruptions ahead of an expected cold snap in the region, state gas company Ukrtransgaz said on Tuesday its underground gas storage facilities held enough fuel for the winter.

"The volume of usable gas in underground storage facilities is 14.8 billion cubic metres," it said in a statement.

"This volume is enough to last through the heating season."

Weather forecasters expect air temperature in Ukraine to drop to -27 degrees Celsius (-17 degrees Fahrenheit) this week after hovering at around zero (30 degrees Fahrenheit) since the beginning of the winter.

Source: Yahoo News

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

As Talks Restart, Ukraine Plans To Reduce Gas Purchases

MOSCOW, Russia -- Ukraine intends to gradually reduce the volume of gas bought from Russia starting from 2013, Ukrainian Energy and Coal Industry Minister Yury Boiko said.

Coal Industry Minister Yury Boiko.

"We have told our Russian partners that we cannot buy [a lot of gas at the current price] and have to switch to alternative energy resources. If the gas price goes down, we will buy more of it, and if no, we will be reducing its consumption from year to year."

"This year [Ukraine will buy] 27 billion cubic meters, and we plan to further reduce the volume next year," Boiko said on a TV talk show hosted by journalist Yevgeny Kiselyov late on Friday, Interfax Reported.

Gas talks with Russia were scheduled to resume this week in Moscow, with a visit by Boiko scheduled to begin on Monday.

Meanwhile, gas prices are affecting the former Soviet republic's negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, or IMF, Bloomberg reported.

Ukraine wants to revive its $15.6 billion bailout from the IMF and will propose alternatives to the fund's demand to raise household natural gas tariffs during talks this week.

While the former Soviet republic can survive without the resumption of IMF disbursements, the government is seeking to repay cash it borrowed from the Washington-based fund in 2008 and 2009, according to Prime Minister Mykola Azarov.

"We'll bring a package of documents to the IMF — we'll show them our offers of how to solve" the domestic gas price issue, Azarov told reporters at the end of last week in the capital, Kiev. Ukraine "will do its best to renew the program."

Ukraine agreed on its second IMF loan in two years in 2010, receiving $3.4 billion in two payments before the program was frozen in 2011.

To unlock the next tranche, the IMF wants the government to increase household gas prices by 35 percent to stem losses at state energy company Naftogaz Ukrainy.

Ukraine, which must repay about $3.8 billion to the IMF in 2012, is seeking a discount on gas supplies from Russia instead.

Ukraine's government bonds due 2016 rose, pushing the yield down to 10.194 percent, the lowest level since Jan. 4, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Newly appointed Finance Minister Valery Khoroshkovsky will head a Ukrainian delegation to Washington this week for talks to kick-start the IMF bailout, the government said.

Still, Ukraine won't bow to the fund's demand to increase household tariffs for the fuel, Raisa Bogatyryova, secretary of the Security and Defense Council, told reporters today in Kiev after President Viktor Yanukovych unexpectedly convened the body.

Ukraine wants to reduce the price it pays Russia for gas by a third to $250 per 1,000 cubic meters, Yanukovych said on Dec. 21.

Under its current contract, the price will rise to $416 per 1,000 cubic meters this quarter from $400 in the previous three months, Energy and Coal Minister Yury Boiko said on Jan. 13.

Russia has asked for control of Ukraine's gas transit pipeline to Europe in return for cheaper supplies of the fuel to its neighbor.

Ukraine has refused, according to Boiko.

"Unfavorable contracts with Russia threaten our economy, put pressure on the hryvnia and widen our state budget deficit," Bogatyryova said.

Cooperation between Ukraine and the IMF may resume soon and is necessary as quickly as possible to provide a cushion against negative trends in the global economy, Ruslan Piontkovsky, an economist at the World Bank, said in Kiev.

The sooner the loan is restarted, the more investors will trust Ukraine's ability to finance its balance of payments and service state debt, he added.

Waning demand for exports and the availability of external funds to finance debt may put pressure on Ukraine in 2012, said Andrew Burns, head of the World Bank's global macroeconomic trends team.

Source: The Moscow Times

Mass-Scale “Outburst” Of Folklore As A Symptom

KIEV, Ukraine -- Most of Ukrainian society is in a depressed mood. Almost every day one hears about another Yanukovych campaign billboard having been vandalized in the west and east of Ukraine (the latter being the Party of Regions’ traditional support center, especially in Luhansk).

Yanukovych billboards are being vandalized all over Ukraine. This cartoon appeared in a Ukrainian newspaper showing the SBU (former KGB) directing the vandalism.

Remarkably, a 73-year-old man vandalized Yanukovych’s glorious image in Volyn, by using a stick and a length of cloth, making a huge paintbrush with which smeared the head of state’s visage with brown paint.

His stunt was preceded by others on the Kiev-Warsaw highway.

When apprehended by the police, the old man explained that he couldn’t bear the sight of the man, and that he refused to accept Viktor Yanukovych as President of Ukraine.

Yulia Tymoshenko remains Ukraine’s political headliner even in the Kachanivska penal colony, complaining about being denied the usage of a walker, about being transferred to another colony, as far away as possible from the Euro-2012 events, about being unable to see the French ombudsman.

Add here the fact that her presidential ratings are higher than Yanukovych’s by three percent for the first time since the 2010 election.

There is an apparent interrelationship between Yanukovych’s lower ratings and vandalized billboards.

Below are commentaries by Ukraine’s leading sociologists Viktor Nebozhenko and Yevhen Holovakha.

Viktor Nebozhenko Commentary:

"Tymoshenko’s rising ratings aren’t the point; the point is the lack of public respect for those currently in power, including the head of state.

People are also aware of the fact that the current opposition isn’t up to the mark.

All that heavy criticism on the part of Afghan and Chornobyl veterans, as well as Internet critique, are links of a single chain.

What’s the big problem our law and order agencies are facing?

They’re unable to spot those who order and pay for such acts of vandalism.

It’s just that such acts of vandalism are perpetrated by individuals in various regions of Ukraine, who do so without knowing that such acts are committed elsewhere in this country.

These people simply respond to such billboards as images spelling a condescending approach to the man in the street, period.

Twenty years ago people vandalized Soviet symbols and placards/ posters in the course of the perestroika campaign when the Soviet Communist Party’s ratings showed a dramatic decline.

At the time, neither the KGB nor the militia knew what to do about them, simply because there was no evidence of a conspiracy against the state, and because there was actually no opposition.

This public disillusionment will spread, involving government agencies and separate [ranking] bureaucrats.

This is proof that our opposition is inactive and that public disillusionment with the current administration is on an upward curve.

The electorate in the east of Ukraine may well register a low turnout during the next presidential election campaign and those ‘upstairs’ may well use this opportunity to add such nonexistent ballots for their candidate.

In fact, I think the turnout in the east of Ukraine won’t exceed 25 percent.

I further believe that, once Yanukovych’s ratings are below 10 percent, the medium-level bureaucrats and heads of law enforcement agencies will start making U-turns, the way they did under President Kuchma.

These people hold their posts because they have long learned to see which way the wind is blowing.

They will respond quickly, primarily by committing acts of [political] sabotage.

The president will submit bills to the Verkhovna Rada and these bills will be shelved.

We saw all this back in 1994-99.”

Yevhen Holovakha Commentary:

“Lower ratings mean lower popularity and a higher degree of dissatisfaction [with a given administration].

There are various ways of manifesting this disillusionment, including acts of vandalism.

The one [in Volyn] can’t be legally justified, but similar acts on a massive scale should give those ‘upstairs’ enough food for thought, specifically concerning what made those people act the way they did. Social tensions are apparently increasing.

It is too early to make any forecasts about the next parliamentary elections, considering that there are many political figures who haven’t made their stand apparent.

The overall trend points at the current administration losing its electoral foothold.

This trend has been there for more than a year.

If this trend continues, the opposition will stand a fair chance during the election campaign.

Any prognostication at this stage would be premature, although even now it is obvious that the Party of Regions won’t have the proportionate majority, while elections on a majority basis would be far too complicated in this country, considering that few if any can figure out the procedures in the first place.

Naturally, the Communists will be the only contenders in the regions of Ukraine that have traditionally supported the Party of Regions.

Sad but true, elections on a majority basis are mostly regarded in Ukraine as another way to rig a campaign rather than put forth a genuine nominee.

In the south and east of Ukraine, people don’t want to give straight answers to straight questions, thus creating an ambiguous situation.

They may show a low turnout or cast more ballots for the Communists than previously.

Anyway, there is time enough before the elections.

We’ll see what will happen, although I’m sure there will be no unanimous support from southeast Ukraine.”

Source: The Day

Europeans Set To Snub Yanukovych At Davos

KIEV, Ukraine -- European leaders will try to avoid meetings with President Viktor Yanukovych in Davos amid concerns over political persecution of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, a newswire reported Monday, citing a European Commission source.

Viktor Yanukovych

Yanukovych will travel to Davos on Wednesday for a three-day visit to participate in the World Economic Forum, as he plans to address issues of regional energy security, according to the presidential administration.

The administration, in a report on Monday, did not mention any bilateral meetings involving Yanukovych scheduled in Davos.

Ukrainian diplomats over the past 30 days have been desperately trying to arrange such meetings, but those efforts have failed, the source said.

“Viktor Yanukovych might have a chance to talk to European Union leaders at sidelines of the forum, or he may come across a leader by accident in a corridor, but we don’t have any specially arranged meetings scheduled in our plans,” LIGAbiznesInform quoted the source as saying.

Moreover, the EU will most likely postpone any financial assistance to Ukraine this year, while some European politicians have been exploring the idea of slapping sanctions against Ukrainian officials, the news agency reported.

The developments underscore the high degree of frustration among European leaders over the way Ukrainian authorities handle the Tymoshenko case.

She was sentenced in October 2011 to seven years in prison for negotiating a controversial gas agreement with Russia in January 2009.

Yanukovych on several occasions last year privately promised senior European officials that Tymoshenko will be released, but had later refused to deliver on the promise, people familiar with the issue said.

Tymoshenko, who lost appeal last month in Kiev, is currently serving the sentence in a remote prison in the Kharkiv region.

She denied any wrongdoing and said the sentence had been politically motivated.

The European Union has already once canceled a scheduled meeting with Yanukovych in Brussels in October 2011 because of concerns over judicial standards following the jailing of Tymoshenko.

A spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton then said the EU wanted Ukraine "to make improvement on important issues, such as the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary."

The refusal to schedule the bilateral meetings in Davos this week shows that Ukraine has probably not made any significant progress on these issues.

The developments are a setback for Yanukovych, who said on Sunday that Ukraine will later this year sign an association agreement, including free trade deal, with the EU.

Source: Ukrainian Journal

Monday, January 23, 2012

The “Blackmail State” Re-Emerges In Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Since Viktor Yanukovych’s election victory, four strategies have been adopted against the opposition that in particular targets Yulia Tymoshenko and her eponymous bloc (BYuT).

New head of the Social Democratic Party of Ukraine, Natalya Korolevska.

BYuT became the dominant national democratic party in the last decade increasing its share of the vote from 7 percent (2002), 24 percent (2006) to 31 percent (2007).

In the 2007 parliamentary and 2010 presidential elections BYuT and Tymoshenko received 3 percent less on both occasions than the Party of Regions and Yanukovych respectfully.

As opposition leader Yanukovych expected to win by over 10 percent in the 2010 elections, but only scraped through with a 3 percent victory over Prime Minister Tymoshenko – and he won fewer votes than in 2004.

In 2015, with their positions of incumbent and opposition leader reversed, Tymoshenko would be likely to win the elections.

BYuT and Tymoshenko’s ability to challenge the Party of Regions’ political machine ensured that “Orange” coalitions be formed after elections (whether they could work together is a separate but important question).

The Party of Regions’ only ally is the Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU), but its additional 5 percent to the Party of Regions vote (31 percent, 2006 and 34 percent in 2007) is insufficient to establish a coalition, as seen in 2007.

A Party of Regions-led coalition required a third party that in 2006 was provided by the defection of the Socialist Party of Ukraine (SPU).

Four strategies have been directed against Tymoshenko and BYuT:

1. Preventing the registration of candidates from Batkivshchina (Fatherland), the party Tymoshenko leads in popular bases of support such as Kiev and Lviv.

This strategy was used in the October 2010 local elections and could be used again in this year’s October parliamentary elections.

2. Imprisoning Tymoshenko and other popular leaders such as the former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko on trumped up charges and through selective use of the judiciary.

Former President Viktor Yushchenko, former Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov and other Our Ukraine leaders have not been targeted, nor has Front for Change party leader Arseniy Yatseniuk.

Yet, all were members of the 2005-2010 “Orange” administration.

The need to remove the Tymoshenko threat from Ukrainian politics brought about the 7+3 sentence (imprisonment and ban from public office) that removes her from the next two presidential and three parliamentary elections.

The sentence gives Yanukovych and the Party of Regions a competition-free political field over the next decade.

3. Pressure on big business and oligarchs not to provide financial and other resources for the opposition parties and leaders.

Television news lambasts opposition parties, and opposition leaders are given little television air time.

Toleration of political and business pluralism that existed under Kuchma, when elites and oligarchs provided financial resources for the opposition and pro-presidential parties, is no longer available.

Under Kuchma, Our Ukraine big businessman Petro Poroshenko launched the Channel 5 television channel that gave the opposition air time.

4. Engineering divisions within BYuT. The election of Natalya Korolevska, a BYuT parliamentary deputy from Luhansk (Donbas), as new leader for the Social Democratic Party of Ukraine (SDPU) is an example of sowing dissension within the BYuT faction.

The Social Democratic PSDPU had already included candidates from the Party of Regions in the 2010 local elections.

Financing of the SDPU by the Party of Regions and authorities is now likely to take place under Korolevska.

Korolevska was elected party leader at an SDPU congress held not coincidentally on the day of Tymoshenko’s December 2011 court appeal.

Korolevska’s new position is “a project by Serhiy Levochkin,” the head of the presidential administration.

Levochkin is a former senior adviser to President Leonid Kuchma and member of the anti-Tymoshenko “gas lobby.”

He has lots of experience in Byzantine behind-the-scenes Ukrainian politics.

Oleksandra Kuzhel resigned in protest of Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Tigipko’s plans to merge the Silna Ukraina (Strong Ukraine) party with the Party of Regions.

On this question she wrote, “when according to Bankova’s scenario (name of street where the presidential administration is located) to change leaders began, it represented the next stage in the authorities’ plans for a managed democracy in Ukraine”.

In 1994, the Minister of Justice Vasyl Onopenko established the Party of Human Rights that merged a year later with the Ukrainian Party of Justice and the SDPU that became the SDPU (Social Democratic United Party of Ukraine).

The right wing of Ukrainian social democracy was led by the SDPU in contrast to the more leftist SPU established in fall 1991.

In 1997-1998, an anti-oligarch wing split away from the SDPU and reformed itself as the SDPU.

The SDPU became the pro-Kuchma centrist political representation of the Kiev clan.

The SDPU aligned with opposition party’s such as Batkivshchina in the Forum for National Salvation in 2001 and was a member of BYuT in the 2002, 2006 and 2007 elections.

Onopenko was the leader of the SDPU until 2006, when his son-in-law Yevhen Kornichuk became its leader.

In 2010-2011, Kornichuk spent three months in prison related to when he was Deputy Justice Minister in the 2007-2010 Tymoshenko government.

This was when the “Levochkin project” took place.

The leadership of the SDPU passed to Korolevska. Levochkin foresees the SDPU playing a similar loyalist role in Ukrainian politics as A Just Russia party, which is loyal to the Vladimir Putin regime.

The SDPU and A Just Russia would take votes from bona fide opposition parties, such as Batkivshchina in Ukraine, in parliamentary elections.

Korolevska, who is photogenic like Tymoshenko, would compete with Tymoshenko in presidential elections.

Judicial reform adopted in July 2010 is a deliberate destruction of the power of the Supreme Court that conflicts with the 1996 constitution that designates this institution as the highest judicial body for courts of general jurisdiction.

This step has been taken to end the independence of the judiciary by absorbing it within the executive through the newly established High Council of Justice and also as banal revenge for the Supreme Court’s December 2004 annulment of Yanukovych’s second round election.

The reforms and replacement of Onopenko by a Yanukovych loyalist means that “those in power have removed all barriers from the path to a loyal Supreme Court”.

This was a good example of what Yale University Professor Keith Darden calls the “Blackmail State,” where officially sanctioned corruption is used as an instrument of state control.

Petro Pylypchuk became Chairman of the Supreme Court in December 2011, after Onopenko decided not to stand for re-election when his term expired.

Ukrainian experts claimed Onopenko’s decision not to stand was part of a “Blackmail State” deal with Yanukovych under which criminal charges were dropped against his daughter Iryna Onopenko, her ex-husband Volodymyr Kotliarov and Onopenko’s son-in-law Korniychuk.

As part of the deal, Korniychuk passed the SDPU to the authorities who installed Korlevska as its new leader.

In the 1990s the SDPU and SPU were invited to join the Socialist International (SI), which turned down the oligarch-dominated SDPU’s request.

The SI would do well to now take another look at the SDPU, which is a Party of Regions virtual satellite party.

Source: The Jamestown Foundation

The Cold (War) Reality Of European Gas

COVENTRY, England -- After sparring with Secretary Clinton over a missile defense shield, Russian officials last year claimed their 2008 war with Georgia blocked NATO ambitions to move east.

The saber rattling by Moscow along the western front of the Soviet Union highlights the notion that natural gas diplomacy in Europe has more to do with geopolitics than energy resources, particularly for the transit networks outlined in the Southern Corridor.

And with a crumbling European economy tearing at the stitches holding the European Union together, members of the eurozone may find themselves reaching for Russian vodka to stay warm next year.

The last time Russian natural gas monopoly Gazprom decided to close the spigot on the natural gas transit network through Ukraine in winter 2009, Europeans shivered for weeks as if Stalin himself had poked his head out of the gas terminals along the country's western border.

The deal that ended the impasse eventually landed Yulia Tymoshenko, the braided princess of the country's Orange Revolution, in a penal colony in Ukraine on corruption charges brought by the pro-Kremlin government in Kiev.

The Europeans have since tried to coax Kiev closer into its sphere of influence with tasty trade incentives all while the Ukrainian government tries to get a better deal from Gazprom, which keeps trying to buy the gas transit network built through Ukraine during the Soviet era.

Meanwhile, the European leadership, with the help of the Cold War victors in Washington, has tried to break Russia's grip on the European energy sector through a series of gas-transit networks dubbed the Southern Corridor.

Of the three projects involved, the Nabucco pipeline is the most ambitious with a $10 billion price tag and a planned capacity of 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas per year.

Despite widespread political backing for the project, at least on paper, the fate of Nabucco is in doubt because of its hefty price tag and lack of firm supplier commitments.

German energy company RWE, a Nabucco consortium member, appears ready to wash its hands of the project after having its purse snatched away when German Chancellor Angela Merkel's decided nuclear energy was a dangerous investment.

But the global economy is interconnected, so that may not be a big deal, unless of course you listen to Richard Morningstar, Washington's energy czar to Europe, who said he supports Nabucco so long as it makes economic sense in the European economy.

Nabucco insists it's on the right path, however, and didn't even bother with a comment when RWE said it was getting cold feet.

It still maintains it provides the most bang for the buck in terms of European energy security.

Nobody's officially signed up yet to put gas in the pipeline, however.

Energy companies from Chevron to BP view natural gas as the greatest thing since, well, since oil.

European countries, however, don't have much of their own and any hopes for seriously tapping into shale deposits were shot down by French and Bulgarian fracking bans.

And OPEC, in its latest report, said "undoubtedly" the European debt crisis would continue to drag on the global economy.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement for economic viability for much of anything in the eurozone.

It's not unreasonable to say the Cold War is alive and well and running through a natural gas pipeline somewhere in Eastern Europe.

Ukraine hosts 80 percent of all of the Russian gas bound for Europe, which is engaged in a tug-of-war with the Kremlin in a line stretching from Warsaw to Baku on Turkey's western coast.

Any guess as to where Ukraine's energy minister spends most of his time?

"The Gazprom headquarters hosted today a working meeting between Alexei Miller, chairman of the company's management committee and Yuri Boiko, Ukrainian energy and coal industry minister," said Gazprom in a statement.

Oh, and South Stream, Russia's answer to Nabucco? Construction on that starts in December.

Pass the vodka.

Source: OilPrice

Russian Fans To Fly for Free To Ukraine – While Their Team Plays In Poland

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russian football fans will be able to fly to the European Football Championship in Ukraine and Poland for free, Aeroflot and Transaero have said.

Putin asks Russian airlines to fly football fans for free.

The commitment came after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told reporters that he couldn't see how making “a couple of planes available” to fly fans to the tournament would hurt the airlines, Russia's largest.

Transaero said Friday it was “ready to offer special discount fares to organized groups of fans” traveling on its regular flights to Ukraine during this summer's tournament, Interfax reported.

Several hours later Aeroflot, which operates routes to Poland, where Russia will play all its group-stage games, announced it too would look into offering free or heavily discounted fares.

Vladimir Putin made the suggestion during a meeting with football supporters' groups Thursday evening.

“I don't think Aeroflot and Transaero would lose money if we asked them to give you free planes for advertising reasons,” Putin said at a meeting with representatives of football supporters' organizations Thursday evening.

Details of the arrangement are still hazy, but Transaero said Friday that it has already approached its main fuel supplier, Gazprom Aero, with a mutual promotional plan under which the oil firm would not charge for fuel, while the airline would fly fans for free.

Repeated calls to both airlines went unanswered Friday.

Euro 2012 kicks off on June 8, when Russia will face the Czech Republic in Wroclaw.

The tournament's final will be held in Kiev on July 31.

Source: The Moscow Times