Monday, December 31, 2012

Reverse Brain Drain: Ukraine Beckons

KIEV, Ukraine -- “The real fun is not about improving performance from 97.2 out of 100 to 98.1,” says Maya Solntseva, an engineer working for multinational consumer goods producer Proctor & Gamble in Ukraine. “It’s about going from 35 to 72.”


Maya Solntseva at Victoria Falls in southern Africa.

Back in 2007 Solntseva passed with brio a four month training program at the company’s Brussels office and was offered her pick of postings: staying in the Belgian capital to do engineering or programming work, or moving to the company’s regional hub outside Prague, Czech Republic.

She chose none of the above.

Born and raised in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, Solntseva opted to stay closer to home.

Dnipropetrovsk was a formerly closed city on account of being the USSR's rocket construction hub.

Solntseva heard about a factory opening in Ordzonikidze, a small town of 25,000 in eastern Ukraine.

She packed her bags and hasn't looked back.

Compared to the two world-class business and cultural centers she was offered, Ordzhonokidze, or "Ordzho" as locals affectionately call it, had little going for it.

Still bearing the name of one of Joseph Stalin's favorite henchmen two decades after the collapse of communism, the backwater is less a town than a handful of Soviet low-risers and asbestos-roofed huts surrounded by heavy industry and a quarry.

But it was a chance to build something from the ground up, to learn a lot, and to give something back to the homeland.

"I hate these people that leave Ukraine and then claim 'life in Ukraine is so bad, nothing can work there,'” she said.

“Well, what have they done to make it better?"

Ordzhonikidze gave her a chance to do just that.

"Everybody here works at Proctor, or around it," said Oleg, a taxi driver in his early 20s who worked on feminine hygiene products until the line was cancelled.

It pays well, he explained, with 3000 hyrvnias ($370) a month plus food and transport, compared to 2000 hyrvnias elsewhere in the region.

And they take worker safety seriously, he added.

"Its simply humane conditions," he said.

Improving working conditions gives you the biggest kick, Solntseva said.

When you have a production line that shuts down 200 times per shift, she explained, and you manage to reduce that to 20, and the operator can actually come and talk to you instead of rushing from one place to another putting out fires — that’s when you feel you’ve done something worthwhile, made that person’s life a little less miserable.

But it isn't just selfless altruism and a taste for adventure that drives her.

Rapid career growth and the chance to gain a wealth of experience are key parts of the bargain.

The first year she dove right in, running the old site with a handful of other fresh managers while the new one was being set up.

This meant going through a number of areas — manipulation, logistics, operations, distribution — and learning each in ways that would be impossible anywhere else. 

Quickly, she earned a series of promotions — starting in two months she will be managing 110 people out of a total 600 in Proctor & Gamble’s biggest factory in Ukraine’s market of 45 million.

“Never would I have been promoted to a higher level in just one-and-a-half years in Brussels,” Solntseva said.

“It would take three, four years, maybe two in exceptional cases. But never one-and-a-half.”

Like many other West European countries, youth unemployment has been high in Belgium at 18 percent (though still far below the 30 percent in Ireland and 50 plus in Spain and Greece).

Perhaps more frustrating still, newcomers on the job market spend years making coffee and taking notes before they get real responsibilities.

“It’s a more mature market,” Solntseva said.

There, even if someone met the criteria for promotion, there would be five others in the situation, and seniority would decide.

But not in Ordzhonikidze, she said, where you just have to meet the necessary qualifications.

“There’s less people in the queue,” she laughed.

But her decision has not been without sacrifice.

Salaries would be twice as high in Belgium, she said, with lots of traveling and hotels.

And in Ordzhonikidze, “there’s nothing to do in the evenings," Solntseva said, "going anywhere means two, or eight, or 12 hours of travel one way.”

But she’s clear about where to head next: Africa.

"Asia is where it happens today, but Africa is where it will be happening tomorrow," she said.

Having just come back from a month in South Africa and Zimbabwe, she said, the region for her resembled Ukraine in the '90s: corruption and poverty, but full of opportunity and amazing people.

Plus it’s a chance to get in at the very beginning of something, she argued, given that Proctor & Gamble doesn’t have any production in the continent’s southeast.

"I finish my assignment, and then I've done my part for Ordzho," she said.

Source: GlobalPost

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Ukraine Scores High In Six International Tourism Ratings: Tourism Boom Expected In 2013

KIEV, Ukraine -- Globe Spots, National Geographic, Trip Advisor and The Lonely Planet ratings have named Ukraine among Top 10 destinations for 2013.

Lviv - the soul of Ukraine.

The country's touristic prospects changed from being an outsider to a "must-see" destination after hosting Europe's major sporting event - EURO 2012 football championship.

Ukraine as a whole as well as its capital Kiev, Crimean Peninsula, Lviv, Chernobyl site and even Salt Tunnels of Solotvyno appeared in prestigious international travel ratings.

Thus, Southern Ukrainian Crimea opens the 2013 list of the 20 Must-See Places, picked by the National Geographic Traveler editors.

"The Crimean Peninsula, with its voluptuously curved Black Sea coast of sparkling cliffs, is paradise - with Riviera-grade vistas but without Riviera prices," describes the popular tourist magazine the Ukrainian gem.

Moreover, known travel website TripAdvisor announced its Travelers' Choice 2012, naming Ukrainian Kiev the top destination on the rise among the cities of The Old World.

Ukrainian capital placed third in the world's top ten rating.

"Having survived the Mongol Empire, WWII, Chernobyl, and Soviet rule, Kiev is the proud capital of the Ukraine," describes the city TripAdvisor.

The Globe Spots featured Ukraine in their Top Countries to Visit in 2013 list.

Ukraine took the eighth spot in the Top Ten.

"Ukraine provides a surreal combination of rock-till-you-drop coastal party towns to Crimean holiday resorts to cosmopolitan capitals to villages you'd swear you were still in the USSR," reads globespots.com.

World's most successful travel publisher The Lonely Planet mentioned Ukraine on three occasions.

Firstly, Lviv, home to a number of UNESCO World Heritage sites, became number two entry in the 6 Weekend Breaks in Europe list.

Chernobyl Reactor #4 - the site of the world's biggest nuclear disaster in 1986 - was named eighth among the Spookiest Buildings Around the World while Salt Tunnels of Solotvyno became tenth World's Saltiest Sights.

Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General of UNWTO, stated that Ukraine had to promote its tourist potential, letting the world discover "your mystery - the great city of Kiev, a wonderful country".

Ukraine's growing popularity is also due to the advancement of tourists' urge for independent traveling and, hence, authentic and unique experience, added Rifai. 

Source: PRNewswire

Ukraine Reminds Santas About Tax

KIEV, Ukraine -- Cash-strapped Ukraine on Wednesday reminded entertainers making money by posing as Did Moroz - the local version of Santa Claus - and his helpers to pay income tax.

A man dressed as Father Frost, the regional version of Santa Claus, poses for a picture in Independence Square in Kiev.

The former Soviet republic's government faces $9 billion in foreign debt repayments next year and its budget deficit almost tripled in January-October this year to more than $4 billion.

By studying internet advertisements, the state tax service found out that a Did Moroz with a traditional female Snihuronka (Snow Maid) helper would earn 250 to 3,500 hryvnias ($30 to $440) per hour in capital Kiev this season.

"Such citizens will need to file forms and pay taxes," the tax service said in a statement.

The service said it was barred from conducting tax checks on small businesses but urged ordinary Ukrainians to report tax-dodging Santas.

Source: Yahoo News

Saturday, December 29, 2012

China Loans Ease Ukraine Strain – Analysis

KIEV, Ukraine -- China has promised major loans to Ukraine as the country faces rising pressure from Russia over imported gas costs.


Natural gas pump station. Kiev,Ukraine.

On Dec. 10, Ukraine’s government announced that its national gas company Naftogaz Ukrainy had received a U.S. $3.65-billion credit line from state-owned China Development Bank Corp. to help replace gas with coal.

The 15-year loans would be paid out starting in 2016, according to the Interfax news agency, suggesting they will provide little immediate relief from Ukraine’s current financial squeeze.

But the support for replacing gas with cheaper domestic coal comes at a time when Ukraine has been struggling with Russia over the high cost of its gas supplies. 

Ukraine has been paying some of the highest gas prices in Europe under a long-term contract signed with Russian monopoly Gazprom in 2009.

The contract, which pegs gas to higher-priced oil, has saddled Ukraine with import costs of over U.S. $12 billion a year.

President Viktor Yanukovich has tried for nearly three years to renegotiate the terms, but so far without success.

Talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin set for Dec. 18 were postponed as the impasse persists.

Control 

Russia has held out for concessions including control of Ukraine’s transit pipelines, which have carried most of Gazprom’s exports to Europe since Soviet times.

The standoff has kept Europe on edge for years following a series of disputes that have disrupted winter gas deliveries.

The costs have become critical for Ukraine, which has been warned by the International Monetary Fund that its hard currency reserves are only enough to cover 2.6 months of total imports, according to a separate Interfax report.

The IMF has withheld further loans until the government raises household gas rates, an unpopular step that Yanukovich has been reluctant to take.

To lower its costs, Ukraine has cut gas imports from Russia with measures that include using more coal.

But the effort has led to another financial risk.

Under terms of its contract, Ukraine must buy a minimum volume of gas or pay a penalty.

By one estimate, Naftogaz could face U.S. $2.7 billion in fines for buying less than the minimum this year.

Stepping Into Conflict

China seems to be stepping into the conflict with loans that could help Ukraine reduce its reliance on Russian gas even more.

Edward Chow, senior fellow for energy and national security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said China must know that the loans may be seen as interference, but officials have said nothing about the motivation.

“I think it’s a little more than curious,” said Chow, although China’s reasons remain unclear.

China’s calculations could be strictly financial, despite the risk of annoying Russia, which has also been trying to strike a deal for gas exports to China since 2006.

“You have Chinese capital chasing deals all over the world, and Ukraine is a geopolitically important place, so why wouldn’t the Chinese … want to have some kind of a foothold?” Chow said.

Chow suggests that Ukraine may have actually weakened its hand with the Russians by appealing to China.

“Instead of giving them the idea that they can’t be too hard on the Ukrainians because they will just rush to the Chinese, it may have the opposite effect of just proving how desperate the Ukrainians are,” he said.

Questions 

Beijing’s practice of offering big loans in Russia’s traditional backyard may continue to raise questions about its relations with Moscow, however.

In September 2011, China agreed to grant Belarus a soft loan of U.S. $1 billion under similar circumstances as the country was trying to resist a Russian takeover of its Beltransgaz pipeline system.

In that case, Belarus was also faced with rising prices for Russian gas and an IMF refusal to extend further loans.

The Russian press saw the move as competition for Belarusian assets that would have to be sold under pressure to pay for gas supplies.

“It seems Russia will now have a powerful rival in the fight for control over state-owned Belarusian firms,” the daily Kommersant said at the time.

Russia’s Gazprom succeeded in gaining control over Beltransgaz later that year.

Last week, the Belarusian government said China’s Export-Import Bank would lend it over U.S. $600 million for satellite communications and highway projects, Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency reported.

President Alexander Lukashenko said Chinese credits would be “more than $1 billion,” according to Interfax.

Financial Forays 

So far, Russian officials have kept quiet about China’s financial forays into the former Soviet republics, although its influence has grown immeasurably in Central Asia with oil and gas investments over the past decade.

It is unclear whether China is now looking for similar influence in Ukraine.

In September, the Financial Times reported that Ukraine planned to start shipping 3 million metric tons of corn per year to China under a U.S. $3-billion credit agreement with the country’s Export-Import Bank.

First deliveries were expected by the end of the year, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Ukraine has high hopes for its agreement with China on coal conversions, which are planned for several regional heat generating plants.

The projects would allow Ukraine to reduce gas imports by 3 billion cubic meters (105.9 billion cubic feet) per year, saving U.S. $1.2 billion annually, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said, according to Interfax.

Source: Eurasia Review

Prime Minister: IMF Not Only Game In Town

KIEV, Ukraine -- Prime Minister Mykola Azarov on Thursday tried to downplay the importance of cooperating with the International Monetary Fund and said Ukraine is in talks with undisclosed “other” sources of lending.


Prime Minister Mykola Azarov

Azarov’s comments come in sharp contrast with other government officials and western analysts that believe resumption of borrowing from the IMF is a key to avoiding serious economic challenges.

“It’s not only the IMF who’s got the resources, as they tend to think, like there are no other possibilities,” Azarov said in a televised interview.

“Actually, there are enough resources available in the world and we are working on attracting them to the Ukrainian economy on mutually beneficial terms.”

Azarov did not elaborate on the sources, but the government has last year borrowed $4 billion from a Russian state-owned bank and earlier this year approved borrowing $5 billion from a Chinese development bank.

The government also raised $1.25 billion from issuing 10-year Eurobond in November.

The IMF suspended its $15 billion loan to Ukraine two years ago after the government, led by Azarov, had failed to hike natural gas prices for households and implement other reforms.

Azarov sought to downplay the importance of the IMF by saying some of reforms it imposed on other countries, such as debt-laden Greece, are not working and even making things worse.

He said Greece’s economy contracted and unemployment increased after the reforms.

“Ukraine has managed to do without the IMF’s loans for two years, and obviously will be able to do without them next year,” Azarov said.

Although Azarov said the government will try to find a compromise at upcoming talks with the IMF next month, his remarks suggest he does not believe that implementing the reforms is worth the IMF’ lending.

The IMF will send its team to Ukraine in January for the talks, and newly appointed Economy Minister Ihor Prasolov said earlier this week he was “confident” the negotiations will be successful.

“It is very important that we get positive signals,” Prasolov said.

Serhiy Arbuzov, the first deputy prime minister and a former governor of the National Bank of Ukraine, has repeatedly spoken in favor of resuming cooperation with the IMF.

Valeriy Khoroshkovskiy resigned earlier this month from the post of the first deputy prime minister citing disagreements with Azarov.

Source: Ukrainian Journal

Friday, December 28, 2012

Nationalist Ukraine Party Sparks Concern

KIEV, Ukraine -- Even in Ukraine’s parliament, where brawls and shouting matches are common, the nationalist Svoboda party stands out.


Svoboda MPs join in a mass brawl in the Ukrainian parliament earlier this month.

“I told our boys to follow two paths – sharpen their wit in the library, and [beef up their muscle] in the gym. We don’t see other methods to protect our nation,” said party ideologue Irina Farion after fights broke out as the new parliament convened earlier this month.

The small but vocal party commenced its work in Ukraine’s new legislature by dramatically sawing through an iron fence that surrounds parliament and then brawling with pro-presidential lawmakers for two days.

Yet it is not its brawn, but rather the party’s ideology, that is fuelling concern.

Boasting a cross-border alliance with France’s National Front, Svoboda’s leadership has been criticised at home and abroad for racist and homophobic views.

Considered for years a marginal party with support limited to Ukrainian-speaking western regions, Svoboda, which translates as Freedom, is today a closely watched newcomer to Ukraine’s 450-seat parliament.

The party made a surprise breakthrough in October’s parliamentary election, mustering 10 per cent of the national vote and winning 37 seats.

Its rise to prominence has shocked many Ukraine watchers.

“The surge in Svoboda’s popularity is clearly a protest vote, a reaction to the policies of [President Viktor] Yanukovich, who draws his support mostly from Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine and whose policies are seen by many voters as ‘Ukrainaphobic’,” says German-born Andreas Umland, a visiting professor at a Kiev University who follows extremist groups.

“For many Ukrainians, Svoboda is viewed as a disciplined party that could put up the strongest of fights with Mr Yanukovich and his oligarchs.”

While the EU and the US are increasingly frustrated with Mr Yanukovich over attacks on democracy, Svoboda’s emergence on to the national scene has raised concern over who could be next to take power in Ukraine.

Oleg Tiahnybok, Svoboda’s leader, made headlines in 2004 when he called upon supporters to fiercely target Ukraine’s enemies – at home and abroad – by carrying on the fight of insurgent nationalist fighters from the second world war.

“They did not fear, but took up their automatic rifles, going into the woods to fight Muscovites, Germans, Jewry and other filth which wanted to take away our Ukrainian nationhood.

It’s time to give Ukraine to the Ukrainians.

Like them, you are most feared by the Moscow-Jewish mafia which today runs Ukraine,” he said.

Neither Mr Tiahnybok nor Svoboda have taken back this rhetoric.

Party lawmaker Yuriy Syrotiuk, formerly spokesperson for Mr Tiahnybok, said his leader was much more careful in how he chose his words.

“On the other hand,” he added, “the fact that there are less ethnic Ukrainians in our nation’s business elite is a consequence of centuries of occupation and injustices directed at our Ukrainian ethnos.”

Despite alarm raised by watchdogs following hate groups, as well as Israel’s foreign ministry, the party claims it is misunderstood, insisting its position is “pro-Ukrainian, not anti-Semitic, racist or xenophobic”.

Mr Tiahnybok said immediately after he was elected in October: “I respect the position of [Israel], which defends the interests of its citizens. I would like to ask Israelis to also respect our patriotic feelings. Probably each party in the Knesset is nationalist. With God’s help, let it be this way for us, too.”

Speaking to the Financial Times, Andriy Mokhnyk, Mr Tiahnybok’s right hand man in parliament, identifies Russia as Ukraine’s main foreign enemy, seeking to oppress Ukrainians, control their riches, and sabotage EU integration – which the party says it supports.

In past centuries, he says, Ukrainians suffered similarly to Jewish people, and were nearly wiped out by the Holodomor genocide, the Soviet-induced 1930s famine.

He describes Ukraine’s current internal enemies as an “oligarchic class composed of former Communist apparatchiks, Komsomol leaders, KGB agents and straight forward criminals of primarily non-Ukrainian ethnic descent”.

A handful of Ukraine’s richest oligarchs are ethnic Jewish, while some others have Russian, Tatar and other roots.

Mr Mokhnyk stops short of identifying by name those who he believes pose a risk to Ukraine, but he insists there is nothing wrong with labelling threats on the basis of ethnicity.

“What, I need to list them by name? Is it not evident who they are? Why doesn’t everyone make such a big deal when the Italian Mafia is referred to as being Italian?” he asks.

Such nationalist sentiment runs high in Ukrainian-speaking western regions, but Ukraine watchers were surprised that Svoboda mustered nearly 20 per cent support in Ukraine’s Russian-speaking capital, Kiev.

Nationwide, the party garnered the largest voter support from educated voters.

A poll commissioned by Kiev’s Democratic Initiatives Foundation found that 48 per cent of Svoboda’s voters had higher level education – 10 percentage points higher than any other party.

“I am very surprised to hear this,” says Brooklyn born Rabbi Bleich, who serves a reviving Jewish community in Kiev.

He stops short of calling Svoboda anti-Semitic: “It looks like people didn’t vote with their minds, but with their hearts,” he says.

“It is definitely disturbing . . . It’s a challenge for Ukraine. Some inner searching is needed to see why such a large portion of the population voted for a party that is expressing extremist views.”

Most of Svoboda’s electorate is not racist, Mr Umland believes.

“They view themselves as patriotic. But while the party leadership is trying to become more moderate, it has racist and xenophobic views.”

Volodymyr Musyak, a 28-year-old Kiev resident and martial arts teacher, said: “I voted Svoboda because they are the most dedicated to freeing Ukraine from this oppressive regime of oligarch bandits. I don’t think they are anti-Semitic. I certainly am not.”

The rowdy Svoboda is starting to play a dominating role in Ukraine’s three-party opposition, which includes the party of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

In the halls of parliament, Svoboda’s lawmakers have outpunched the UDAR opposition party – the acronym means “punch” in Ukrainian – led by heavyweight boxer Vitali Klitschko.

While the other two opposition parties have expressed discomfort with Svoboda’s extremist views, they claim to be united to topple what they describe as Mr Yanukovich’s oppressive and kleptocratic oligarch regime.

Experts question whether Svoboda’s popularity will increase sufficiently to render it a significant force in national decision-making.

But if his party comes to power, Mr Mokhnyk says strategic state assets “stolen” by oligarchs through “corrupt privatisations” would be renationalised.

The Communist party, as well as former Soviet apparatchiks and KGB agents, would be banned from holding office; social justice would be attained by shifting the tax burden from cash-strapped small and medium businesses to large ones.

Also, ethnicity would be stated in Ukrainian passports.

“What’s wrong with this?” Mr Mokhnyk asks. Ukrainians, as well as people of other ethnic descent, should “proudly exhibit their ethnicity”, he claims.

“We have seen this before,” says Viktor, a Ukrainian of Jewish roots who served in government and recalls Soviet-era quotas that restricted ethnic minorities from holding senior positions.

“It is clear that that Svoboda sees a difference between ‘real’ Ukrainians, and others . . . second-class citizens who could, in their view, pose a national risk.”

He adds sarcastically, pointing to recent homophobic remarks by Svoboda’s leadership: “Why don’t they complete their party programme by also introducing sexual orientation into the passport?”

Source: ft

AP Interview: Tymoshenko Daughter Urges Sanctions

KIEV, Ukraine -- he daughter of jailed former Ukrainian premier Yulia Tymoshenko urged Western nations Thursday to impose sanctions on officials involved in her mother's imprisonment.


Eugenia Tymoshenko, daughter of jailed former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012. Eugenia Tymoshenko is calling on Western nations to impose sanctions on Ukrainian officials involved in her mother’s case. Tymoshenko's imprisonment has strained Ukraine's ties with the West. The European Union suspended a key cooperation deal with Kiev over her case.

Tymoshenko, the country's top opposition leader, is serving a seven-year prison sentence on charges of abuse of office after a trial that was condemned by the West as politically motivated and which strained Ukraine's ties to Europe and the United States.

Tymoshenko denies the charges and accuses President Viktor Yanukovych, her longtime foe, of orchestrating the trial to bar her from politics.

With Tymoshenko in jail, Ukraine's fragmented opposition forces were unable to muster a majority in parliament following an election in October, and Yanukovych's allies again control the legislature and the government.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday, Tymoshenko's daughter Eugenia, 32, said prosecutors and judges involved in her mother's case should face Western sanctions such as travel bans and freezes on bank accounts.

"We understand that we cannot do it by ourselves inside Ukraine and that is why we need great international support, but also (an) understanding of our international friends that Yanukovych will not just voluntarily give up his power," Eugenia Tymoshenko said in her mother's office in central Kiev.

"People like judges, like prosecutors ... they have to be put forward for sanctions.

Those are the main executors of repression.

Of course, there are people behind them who are in the ruling party, but it could be the first step."

The European Union suspended a key cooperation deal with Kiev over the Yulia Tymoshenko case.

Separately, Deputy Prosecutor General Renat Kuzmin, who is in charge of the ex-premier's prosecution, recently had his long-term U.S. visa revoked.

The U.S. Embassy in Kiev would not comment on the move, citing its privacy policy.

But the visa cancellation followed efforts by Kuzmin to question U.S.-based witnesses in a nearly 15-year-old murder case in Ukraine in which Kuzmin claims Yulia Tymoshenko is implicated.

She denies all the accusations.

Her daughter also exhorted the international community to investigate and prosecute alleged instances of "international corruption" involving Ukrainian officials in the West.

For instance, Yulia Tymoshenko has petitioned American authorities to investigate how Ukraine's Justice Ministry commissioned a top U.S. law firm to analyze her trial for what Ukraine's government says was a mere $12,000.

Tymoshenko's lawyer Serhiy Vlasenko has said that such a report must have cost well over $1.5 million and accused Yanukovych's allies of paying for it illicitly.

The report by the New York-based firm, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom claims that there is not sufficient evidence that Tymoshenko was prosecuted for political reasons, though it finds numerous flaws in her trial.

The law firm has not commented on its fee for the report, which was dated September but not made public until earlier this month.

Yulia Tymoshenko has been in prison for about a year and a half, but Eugenia Tymoshenko expressed hope that Western pressure could eventually free her mother so that she could run against Yanukovych in the 2015 presidential election. 

"Yanukovych's main task was to keep my mother in prison for the elections in 2015," Eugenia Tymoshenko said.

"It (takes) great responsibility and great power and energy to stop this train that's been going on the reverse side for Ukraine — away from democratic, European values."

Source: ABC News

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Svoboda: The Rise Of Ukraine's Ultra-Nationalists

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's ultra-nationalist party, Svoboda, was a shock winner in October's parliamentary election, capturing more than 10% of the vote and entering the legislature for the first time.


Oleh Tyahnybok

How radical is it?

Svoboda's presence has been felt immediately in Ukraine's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, where its 37 deputies belong to a broad coalition opposing President Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions.

Meeting for its first two sessions in mid-December, the Rada - as it has a number of times in the past - degenerated into scenes that resembled not so much a legislative process as an ice hockey brawl, involving dozens of shoving, punching and kicking parliamentarians.

Svoboda's newly installed deputies, clad in traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirts, were in the thick of the melee, when not actually leading the charge.

They helped attack and drive from the opposition's ranks two deputies - a father and son - who were accused of preparing to defect to the ruling party.

Then they joined a massive free-for-all around the speaker's rostrum, in protest at alleged illegal absentee-voting by deputies from the governing party.

One of Svoboda's leading members, sports journalist Ihor Miroshnychenko, his ponytail flying behind him, then charged the podium to prevent a deputy speaking in Russian. (Svoboda believes that only Ukrainian should be used in all official bodies.)

Outside, Svoboda deputies used a chainsaw to cut down an iron fence erected last year to prevent crowds from storming the parliament building.

This they justified in the name of popular democracy.

"No other democratic country has fenced-off the national parliament," said Svoboda's Ruslan Koshulinskiy, the deputy speaker of parliament.

"People have chosen these lawmakers and should have a right to have access to them."

Chaotic and confrontational as this may seem to Western eyes, Svoboda's over-the-top behaviour is partly what drove many Ukrainians to vote for them.

The party has tapped a vast reservoir of protest votes.

In a political landscape where all other parties are seen as corrupt, weak or anti-democratic - or all three - Svoboda seems to have attracted voters who would otherwise have stayed away from the polls altogether.

Its strong anti-corruption stance - promising to "clean up" Ukraine - has resonated deeply.

"I'm for Svoboda," said Vadim Makarevych, a supporter, said at a recent rally in Kiev.

"We have to stop what is happening in our country. It's banditry and mafia."

At the same time, they have staked out a position as fervent - some say rabid - defenders of traditional Ukrainian culture and language.

Months before Miroshnychenko charged the parliament podium, Svoboda activists were photographed appearing to spray police with pepper gas, at a demonstration against a law making Russian an official language in some regions of the country. 

Among those who see Russia as a threat to Ukraine's independence - chiefly in the west rather than the east of the country - many applaud this tough anti-Moscow stance.

But in the run-up to October's election, the party also wooed centrist voters by softening its image.

Party leader Oleh Tyahnybok repeatedly reassured voters that Svoboda is not racist, xenophobic or anti-Semitic - just pro-Ukrainian.

"We are not against anyone, we are for ourselves," he said.

By presenting itself as a party of very devoted patriots, Svoboda seems to have won over voters who would be repelled by some of its more radical views - or voters who sympathise with these views, but prefer them to remain unspoken.

In the last parliamentary elections five years ago, Svoboda managed only 0.7% of the vote.

This time, in addition to expanding its traditional base in the country's Ukrainian-speaking west - it won close to 40% in the Lviv region - Svoboda made inroads into central regions, capturing second place in the capital Kiev.

Last week, the charismatic Tyahnybok was voted Person of the Year by readers of the country's leading news magazine, Korrespondent.

But while the party's radical past can be papered over, it cannot be erased.

Its name until 2004 was the "Social-Nationalist Party" and it maintains informal links to another group, the Patriots of Ukraine, regarded by some as proto-fascist.

In 2004, Tyahnybok was kicked out of former President Viktor Yushchenko's parliamentary faction for a speech calling for Ukrainians to fight against a "Muscovite-Jewish mafia" - using two highly insulting words to describe Russians and Jews - and emphasising that Ukrainians had in the past fought this threat with arms.

In 2005, he signed an open letter to Ukrainian leaders, including President Yushchenko, calling for the government to halt the "criminal activities" of "organised Jewry", which, the letter said, was spreading its influence in the country through conspiratorial organisations as the Anti-Defamation League - and which ultimately wanted to commit "genocide" against the Ukrainian people.

Tyahnybok stresses that he has never been convicted for anti-Semitism or racial hatred, though prosecutors opened a case against him after his 2004 speech.

"All I said then, I can also repeat now," he says.

"Moreover, this speech is relevant even today."

Other Svoboda members have also courted controversy.

Yuriy Mykhalchyshyn, a parliamentary deputy considered one of the party's ideologues, liberally quotes from former Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, along with other National-Socialist leaders.

This undoubtedly appeals to a number of Svoboda's voters, though to what extent is difficult to determine.

Even now, Svoboda's platform calls for passports to specify the holder's ethnicity, and for government positions to be distributed proportionally to ethnic groups, based on their representation in the population at large.

"We want Ukrainians to run the country," says Bohdan, a participant in a recent Svoboda rally, as he waves a Ukrainian flag and organises cheering and chanting. 

"Seventy percent of the parliament are Jews."

Some see signs that Svoboda's radical elements are reasserting themselves.

Activists recently attacked and sprayed tear gas at a gay rights rally in central Kiev.

Ihor Miroshnychenko, meanwhile, used abusive language to describe the Ukrainian-born American actress Mila Kunis, who is Jewish, in an online discussion.

However, a number of Svoboda's critics, while underscoring the potential dangers of the party's rise, also say that its popularity may be fleeting.

Svoboda's surge mirrors the far-right's growing strength in many countries across Europe, they point out, and may not signal any fundamental, long-term rightward shift among the Ukrainian population.

With the increased scrutiny that the party will come under in parliament, more Ukrainians may also take objection to Svoboda's wilder statements, or decide it creates unnecessary divisions in an already polarised country.

The party itself could also become more mainstream as it conforms to pressure from its political partners.

This has happened with other far-right groups in the past, like the Italian Fascist party, which mellowed as it integrated into Italy's conservative camp, experts say. 

"There's a belief that Svoboda will change, once in the Verkhovna Rada, and that they may become proper national democrats," says Andreas Umland, a political science professor at Kiev's Mohyla Academy University.

But he hesitates to predict how the party's internal tensions will be resolved.

"We don't know which way Svoboda will go," he says.

"It may actually become more radical."

Source: BBC News Magazine

Prez: 2013 Budget A Matter Of ‘Survival’

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine’s economy is facing extremely tough environment in 2013 and it is a matter of “survival” for the government to spend money wisely next year, President Viktor Yanukovych said Tuesday.


President Viktor Yanukovych

He said Ukraine will seek to revive borrowing from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in order to pay mounting debt obligations that come due next year.

“Every budget hryvnia must be valued and appreciated,” Yanukovych told a meeting of regional officials in Kiev.

“It will be a survival budget. And if there will be any economic growth, it would come only through savings.”

The comment underscores concerns over economic conditions in 2013 despite the government drafting the budget based on an optimistic scenario, which anticipates economic expansion at 3.4% on the year.

The economic recorded a contraction in the third quarter and is expected to grow less than 1% in 2012, well beyond the government’s original forecast.

Yanukovych addressed the issue days after opposition lawmakers had charged that the government had secretly changed main budget numbers and spending after the bill was approved by Parliament and before it was signed by the president.

For example, the opposition groups said the government had illegally increased spending on police by 1 billion hryvnias ($0.12 billion) next year among other changes in 2013.

Serhiy Tyhypko, a former deputy prime minister in charge of social policy who was dismissed by Yanukovych last week, denied the allegations.

But Yanukovych specifically said that the government must focus on “rational use” of the budget money.

“The obvious requirement is the rational use of budget funds in 2013,” Yanukovych said.

“The budget that was approved cannot suit everyone. Its main task is to prevent the deterioration of social protection in a difficult economic situation.”

Ukraine is expected to repay $9 billion in 2013, which makes the government’s job extremely difficult next year and requires resumption of borrowing from the IMF and the World Bank, he said.

“We expect to deepen cooperation with the international financial institutions – the IMF and the World Bank,” Yanukovych said.

Arseniy Yatseniuk, the leader of the opposition Batkivshchyna party, charged last week that main parameters of the 2013 budget – including budget deficit - were changed after it was approved by Parliament and before it was signed by Yanukovych.

The budget was approved without debate by the outgoing Parliament at its last-day session on December 6 and was signed into law by Yanukovych on December 17. 

The budget deficit increased by 100 million hryvnias ($12.5 million) to 50.5 billion hryvnias ($6.31 billion) in from 50.4 billion hryvnias ($6.3 billion) before Yanukovych had signed the bill, Yatseniuk said.

Other major changes include increasing spending on police by 1 billion hryvnias ($0.12 billion), while spending on the Cabinet of Ministers had increased by 60 million hryvnias ($7.5 million), or by more than 20%, to 334.5 million hryvnias ($41.8 million), Yatseniuk said.

On the other hand, spending on social programs was cut by 20 million hryvnias ($2.5 million), while hospitals handling rehabilitation of cerebral palsy patients had their budget reduced by 7 million hryvnias ($0.87 million).

Spending on water supply infrastructure across Ukraine was reduced by 160 million hryvnias ($20 million) in 2013, Yatseniuk said.

Ukraine’s projected budget deficit at 3.2% of the gross domestic product – twice as much as in 2012 - is one of the main macroeconomic problems to be faced by the government next year, according to analysts said.

Other concerns include overly optimistic economic growth forecast of 3.4% on the year in 2013, which may de-facto further widen budget deficit if the government collects less in budget revenue, analysts said.

Source: Ukrainian Journal

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

China Loans Ease Ukraine Strain

KIEV, Ukraine -- China has promised major loans to Ukraine as the country faces rising pressure from Russia over imported gas costs.


Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych (R) and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao toast after clinching a strategic partnership agreement in Kiev, June 20, 2011.

On Dec. 10, Ukraine's government announced that its national gas company Naftogaz Ukrainy had received a U.S. $3.65-billion credit line from state-owned China Development Bank Corp. to help replace gas with coal.

The 15-year loans would be paid out starting in 2016, according to the Interfax news agency, suggesting they will provide little immediate relief from Ukraine's current financial squeeze.

But the support for replacing gas with cheaper domestic coal comes at a time when Ukraine has been struggling with Russia over the high cost of its gas supplies. 

Ukraine has been paying some of the highest gas prices in Europe under a long-term contract signed with Russian monopoly Gazprom in 2009.

The contract, which pegs gas to higher-priced oil, has saddled Ukraine with import costs of over U.S. $12 billion a year.

President Viktor Yanukovich has tried for nearly three years to renegotiate the terms, but so far without success.

Talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin set for Dec. 18 were postponed as the impasse persists.

Control 

Russia has held out for concessions including control of Ukraine's transit pipelines, which have carried most of Gazprom's exports to Europe since Soviet times.

The standoff has kept Europe on edge for years following a series of disputes that have disrupted winter gas deliveries.

The costs have become critical for Ukraine, which has been warned by the International Monetary Fund that its hard currency reserves are only enough to cover 2.6 months of total imports, according to a separate Interfax report.

The IMF has withheld further loans until the government raises household gas rates, an unpopular step that Yanukovich has been reluctant to take.

To lower its costs, Ukraine has cut gas imports from Russia with measures that include using more coal.

But the effort has led to another financial risk.

Under terms of its contract, Ukraine must buy a minimum volume of gas or pay a penalty.

By one estimate, Naftogaz could face U.S. $2.7 billion in fines for buying less than the minimum this year.

Stepping into conflict 

China seems to be stepping into the conflict with loans that could help Ukraine reduce its reliance on Russian gas even more.

Edward Chow, senior fellow for energy and national security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said China must know that the loans may be seen as interference, but officials have said nothing about the motivation.

"I think it's a little more than curious," said Chow, although China's reasons remain unclear.

China's calculations could be strictly financial, despite the risk of annoying Russia, which has also been trying to strike a deal for gas exports to China since 2006.

"You have Chinese capital chasing deals all over the world, and Ukraine is a geopolitically important place, so why wouldn't the Chinese ... want to have some kind of a foothold?" Chow said.

Chow suggests that Ukraine may have actually weakened its hand with the Russians by appealing to China.

"Instead of giving them the idea that they can't be too hard on the Ukrainians because they will just rush to the Chinese, it may have the opposite effect of just proving how desperate the Ukrainians are," he said.

Questions 

Beijing's practice of offering big loans in Russia's traditional backyard may continue to raise questions about its relations with Moscow, however.

In September 2011, China agreed to grant Belarus a soft loan of U.S. $1 billion under similar circumstances as the country was trying to resist a Russian takeover of its Beltransgaz pipeline system.

In that case, Belarus was also faced with rising prices for Russian gas and an IMF refusal to extend further loans.

The Russian press saw the move as competition for Belarusian assets that would have to be sold under pressure to pay for gas supplies.

"It seems Russia will now have a powerful rival in the fight for control over state-owned Belarusian firms," the daily Kommersant said at the time.

Russia's Gazprom succeeded in gaining control over Beltransgaz later that year.

Last week, the Belarusian government said China's Export-Import Bank would lend it over U.S. $600 million for satellite communications and highway projects, Russia's RIA Novosti news agency reported.

President Alexander Lukashenko said Chinese credits would be "more than $1 billion," according to Interfax.

Financial forays 

So far, Russian officials have kept quiet about China's financial forays into the former Soviet republics, although its influence has grown immeasurably in Central Asia with oil and gas investments over the past decade.

It is unclear whether China is now looking for similar influence in Ukraine.

In September, the Financial Times reported that Ukraine planned to start shipping 3 million metric tons of corn per year to China under a U.S. $3-billion credit agreement with the country's Export-Import Bank.

First deliveries were expected by the end of the year, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Ukraine has high hopes for its agreement with China on coal conversions, which are planned for several regional heat generating plants.

The projects would allow Ukraine to reduce gas imports by 3 billion cubic meters (105.9 billion cubic feet) per year, saving U.S. $1.2 billion annually, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said, according to Interfax.

Source: Radio Free Asia

Monday, December 24, 2012

Government Denies Budget Tampering Charge

KIEV, Ukraine -- A senior government official dismissed allegations from opposition groups that the 2013 budget had been illegally tampered with and changed before it was signed by President Viktor Yanukovych.


Arseniy Yatseniuk

The opposition groups charged the government had increased spending on police by 1 billion hryvnias ($0.12 billion) next year among other changes after the budget had been approved by Parliament.

But Serhiy Tyhypko, an acting deputy prime minister in charge of social policy, dismissed the allegations and defended the budget, suggesting the issue may continue to dominate upcoming sessions of Parliament.

“As for changes to the budget, I think that this can not be that it has been approved by Parliament in one edit to be later changed at the presidential administration and signed by the president,” Tyhypko said.

“I think whatever was submitted by Parliament, was signed by the president.” Tyhypko, who was elected to Parliament at the October 28 elections, has made it clear that he will not stay in the government and will rather join Parliament.

Arseniy Yatseniuk, the leader of the opposition Batkivshchyna party, charged on Thursday that main parameters of the 2013 budget – including budget deficit - were changed after it was approved by Parliament and before it was signed by Yanukovych.

The budget was approved without debate by the outgoing Parliament at its last-day session on December 6 and was signed into law by Yanukovych on December 17. 

The budget deficit increased by 100 million hryvnias ($12.4 million) to 50.5 billion hryvnias ($6.3 billion) in from 50.4 billion hryvnias before Yanukovych had signed the bill, Yatseniuk said. 

Other major changes include increasing spending on police by 1 billion hryvnias ($0.12 billion), a measure that Yatseniuk said was a sign the government was protecting itself from the people.

Other major winners of the alleged tampering are the Cabinet of Ministers, which increased spending on itself by 60 million hryvnias ($7.4 million), or by more than 20%, to 334.5 million hryvnias ($41.5 million), Yatseniuk said.

Yatseniuk said the increases in spending came after social programs had been reduced or eliminated. For example, the Social Policy Ministry’s budget was cut by 20 million hryvnias, while hospitals handling rehabilitation of cerebral palsy patients had their budget reduced by 7 million hryvnias ($0.9 million).

Spending on water supply infrastructure across Ukraine was reduced by 160 million hryvnias ($20 million) in 2013, Yatseniuk said.

Tyhypko defended the social spending and said it was adjusted to the worsening economic environment.

“The social budget was not reduced, but the rate of increase in wages for the public sector has slowed down,” Tyhypko said.

“The budget is difficult.”

“The situation in the economy is very strained,” Tyhypko said.

“We are not talking about it, but the situation is simply crisis-like.”

Ukraine’s projected budget deficit at 3.2% of the gross domestic product – twice as much as in 2012 - is one of the main macroeconomic problems to be faced by the government next year, according to analysts said.

Other concerns include overly optimistic economic growth forecast of 3.4% on the year in 2013, which may de-facto further widen budget deficit if the government collects less in budget revenue, analysts said.

Source: Ukrainian Journal

Ukraine President Sacks Top Officials

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych has dismissed Foreign Minister Konstantin Grishchenko, Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko and Finance Minister Yuri Kolobov.

Viktor Yanukovych

Decrees to this effect were published at the president’s official web page Monday. 

Among the other Ukrainian high-flyers who lost their offices today are the country’s Minister of Energy and Coal Industry, Yuri Boiko, as well as Ecology and Natural Resources chief Eduard Stavitsky.

The president has also sacked head of Ukraine’s customs service Alexander Klimenko, Defense Minister Dmitry Salamatin, Deputy PM and Health Minister Raisa Bogatyryova, Culture Minister Mikhail Kulinyak and Dmitry Kolesnikov, head of the Ukrainian State Agency for Management of State Corporate Rights and Property.

Source: Voice of Russia, RIA

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Putin: Kiev Seeks Trade-Bloc Cooperation

MOSCOW, Russia -- Ukraine has been seeking ways to cooperate with the Russia-led Customs Union trade bloc, but has not yet submitted an application for a full fledged membership, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday.


Vladimir Putin

“We’re not talking about Ukraine’s accession to the Customs Union,” Putin said at a press conference in Moscow.

“For us to start talking about it, we have to receive the application for the accession. We don’t have such application.”

The comment provides a glimpse into ongoing discussions between Ukraine and Russia after President Viktor Yanukovych had suddenly postponed his trip to Moscow on Tuesday.

Yanukovych, who was widely expected to go and to sign an agreement with Putin, later cited the need for “additional consultations” for postponing the trip.

The government provided little or no other details over the ongoing talks with Russia, triggering concerns among opposition lawmakers that Yanukovych has been seeking to unilaterally reverse the foreign policy.

The issue is sensitive in Ukraine as any accession to the Customs Union, which includes Belarus and Kazakhstan, would essentially mean reversing previous plans for closer integration with the European Union.

Ukraine’s opposition groups, which increased their strength in Parliament following October 28 elections, vowed to call emergency session of Parliament and other extreme measures to stop the agreement.

Putin said Ukraine has been seeking ways to increase cooperation with the Customs Union after facing difficulties in obtaining a quota for exports of steel pipes to Russia.

Ukraine has earlier received annual quotes from Russia for the exports of steel pipes, but now the decision as postponed because the Customs Union’s supranational body – still controlled by Russia - had to make decision, Putin said.

“Now, we’re not giving Ukraine the quotas not because we don’t want to, but because this is a competence of the supranational body,” Putin said.

“Our Ukrainian friends for some time thought we are joking,” Putin said.

“But now they have understood that this is no joke.” “So, the Ukrainian partners are now busy seeking way out of the situation,” Putin said.

“They are looking for ways of cooperation with the Customs Union that would be acceptable for Ukraine, but would go in line with legal norms” of the Customs Union.

Arseniy Yatseniuk, the leader of the opposition Batkivshchyna party, said the government should sign as soon as possible a political and free trade deal with the EU.

He said the Customs Union has “no room for Ukraine’s independence.”

Source: Ukrainian Journal

Dozens Die In Ukraine Cold Spell

KIEV, Ukraine -- At least 83 people have died in Ukraine from a cold snap that has been gripping the country, officials say.


Snow and frost of minus 15 degrees Celsius are forecast in Ukraine by weather officials for two more days.

More than 80 people have died in Ukraine from cold weather that has been gripping the country, local media reported.

An official from Ukraine's health ministry said on Friday that 83 people were known to have died from the cold, according to Interfax Ukraine.

Most of the victims have been found on the streets.

Temperatures as low as minus 23 degrees Celsius and heavy snowfall this month have left the capital Kiev and most of the country under a thick frozen layer. 

Residents reported that there was no place for homeless people in Kiev to hide from the weather.

'Heating shelters' 

"If those [frozen] are homeless, then it's probably true that they've got nowhere to go in such conditions to warm up," said a woman who gave her name as Tatiana.

More than 500 people were being treated in hospitals across the country.

In the western part of the country, vehicles were trapped in a three-day traffic jam stretching at one point about 20km (12 miles).

Nearly 100 towns and villages across the country remain without electricity.

Army units have also been deployed to help clear the snow on major motorways. 

While some people prefer to stay in warm home, some are not ready to give up their hobbies.

A fisherman, Stanislav, said it was necessary simply to put lots of warm clothes on. 

"Well, fishers, as you see, they are like penguins glued to the hole in ice and that's it, that's why they put warm clothes on," he said.

Some 1,500 "heating shelters" have reportedly been set up where the homeless and the elderly can get a hot meal and a warm place to sleep.

"If there would be no such stations, if there would be nothing like that ... we would simply, and I'll put it bluntly, we would die out, all of us," said Andrei, a homeless man from Kiev.

Earlier this week the health ministry said 190 people have sought medical help for hypothermia, and 162 had been hospitalised.

Last winter, more than 100 people died from the cold in Ukraine.

Source: Al Jazeera

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Obama Administration Impedes Ukraine Murder Investigation

KIEV, Ukraine -- Unbelievable as it may seem, the Obama administration may be precipitating yet another foreign policy debacle with Ukraine.


Yulia Tymoshenko

Ukrainian Prosecutor General Renat Kuzmin is pursuing a possible murder indictment against former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, for her alleged involvement as an accessory in the 1996 killing of lawmaker Yevgeny Scherban, his wife, and an airport employee, all of whom were shot dead at Donetsk Airport in November 1996.

Kuzmin further claims that the murder was ordered to be carried out by Tymoshenko’s former ally and ex-prime minister Pavlo Lazarenko, whose nine-year U.S. prison term for extortion and money laundering ended in November.

Yet because Tymoshenko has long been admired in Western circles, counting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton among her most ardent fans, Kuzmin’s investigation is apparently being stonewalled by the Obama administration. 

Tymoshenko was propelled onto the world stage as part of the Orange Revolution that freed her country from the USSR.

Partnered with Viktor Yushchenko, she emerged as a hero for hundreds of thousands of revolutionaries who massed in Kiev to protest against the fraudulent presidential election intially “won” by Viktor Yanukovich.

When the Supreme Court ordered a do-over, Yushchenko was elected to the presidency and Tymoshenko became Prime Minister.

The relationship lasted eight months, after which Yushchenko fired Tymoshenko, citing corruption as the reason.

He continued to criticize her after she left office.

She returned the favor, accusing the Yushchenko administration of corruption.

The relationship became so toxic that Tymoshenko attempted to forge a coalition with Mr. Yanukovich.

That effort also ended in failure in 2009.

Undaunted, Tymoshenko announced she would run for the presidency.

In a close election in 2010, she lost to Viktor Yanukovich.

In August 2011, Tymoshenko was arrested in court on contempt charge, after she openly mocked the current prime minister, Mykola Azarov, for speaking in Russian, rather than Ukrainian.

Azarov was a witness in Tymoshenko’s trial for “abuse of power.”

In 2009, she allegedly forced the state company Naftogaz to buy from natural gas from Russia at what the government claimed were inflated prices.

The charges were condemned by her supporters and Western politicians who contended her trial was politically motivated.

But her former Orange Revolution partner, Viktor Yushchenko, testified against her, claiming she wanted to be seen as a “savior” who ended a bitter pricing dispute with Moscow, as part of her presidential election campaign.

Tymoshenko was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison, enraging her followers and Western elitists convinced she was a victim of political machinations.

Those convictions were exacerbated by additional charges brought against her in November 2011, for tax evasion and embezzlement, in a reopened case dating back more than 15 years.

Yet in December, appeals court in Kiev upheld the ruling for the gas deal conviction.

Last April, she declared a hunger strike after she claimed she was beaten by guards. 

Her lawyers insist the murder charges are nothing more than a desperate attempt by the authorities to pin additional charges on Tymoshenko, amid growing international unease over her case.

"They have started inventing all sorts of rubbish to try to show the West that she is a criminal,” her lawyer said last June.

“They have a savage desire to keep Yulia Tymoshenko in prison, no matter what the pretext.”

Enter the Obama administration.

In a report commissioned by the Ukrainian government, a team of American lawyers, led by former White House counsel Gregory B. Craig, concluded that Ms. Tymoshenko was denied legal counsel at “critical stages” of her trial, and that at other times her lawyers were incorrectly prevented from calling relevant witnesses.

Yet Craig also claimed his team was unable to determine whether the trial was politically motivated.

New York-based law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom – also commissioned by the Ukrainian Justice Ministry – reached a similar conclusion in a report released last week.

While they also cited problems with her trial, the report was conclusive regarding politics.

"Based on our review of the record, we do not believe that Tymoshenko has provided specific evidence of political motivation that would be sufficient to overturn her conviction under American standards,” it read.

A New York Times article on the problems at the trial brought up a eye-brow-raising point.

Craig “acknowledged that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was among many Western leaders who have criticized the prosecution as crass political reprisal,” it stated.

In October, Clinton sent a letter to Tymoshenko that seemingly spoke for the Obama administration.

"Our position remains unchanged: you should be immediately and unconditionally released, as well as other former members of your government. It’s a shame that politically motivated prosecutions undermine the progress of democracy that Ukrainians aspire and relations with the United States,” it said.

On December 7, Clinton characterized Ukraine as “one of our biggest disappointments.”

Clinton’s unwavering support is somewhat curious.

A coalition agreement between Yulia Tymoshenko’s Fatherland Party and the anti-Semitic Svoboda party has so concerned Jewish leaders that they are calling on Israel’s Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu to pressure Clinton to withdraw her support for the former Prime Minister.

The State Department has responded with silence.

Such silence is not limited to the State Department, and the story itself even becomes more curious with the revelation that murder investigator Renat Kuzmin’s 5-year US visa has been cancelled by the US embassy, absent any official reason for doing so.

In a bombshell letter addressed to President Obama, Kuzmin claims there is “an elaborated plan by the U.S. Department of Justice, initiated by some American and Ukrainian politicians, to counteract and eliminate the case of Eugene Scherban’s murder,” and that the “[I]nitiators of the plan presumed to provoke my arrest in the territory of the USA, based upon specially fabricated indictments.”

Kuzmin further insisted that “I was to be incriminated by alleging that I coerced a witness, Nikolai Melnichenko, in a murder case to give evidence to Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office investigators. Thus, the initiators of the plan intended to force termination not only of this murder investigation by Ukrainian authorities, but also other crimes, of which Mrs. Tymoshenko is accused.”

Melnichenko, a former State Guard service employee, was having none of it.

According to Russian news agency Itar-Tass, Melnichenko “told a news conference in Washington…that he had information about the involvement of Tymoshenko and former Prime Minister Pavel Lazarenko” regarding the murders, and that Tymoshenko’s family had tried to get him to testify that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich had ordered Scherban’s elimination.

As noted above, Lazarenko has served his sentence for extortion and money laundering.

Yet he remains behind bars until his immigration status is settled, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The U.S. has also rejected repeated extradition requests from Ukraine, citing the lack of an extradition treaty between the two countries.

The effort to keep Lazarenko in the United States, and, at the same time, force Renat Kuzmin out of the country, suggests someone has a vested interest in keeping the two men apart for as long as possible.

According to Renat Kuzmin, the Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office has asked the U.S. to provide information about the possible involvement of Lazarenko and Tymoshenko in the murders.

There are those who believe the effort to stonewall those requests, along with the coordinated effort to maintain a sympathetic media profile of Yulia Tymoshenko, is being orchestrated by Tymoshenko herself.

Kuzmin illuminates as much in the aforementioned letter, noting that “[D]uring the interrogation process in Ukraine, Nikolai Melnichenko named all of the Ukrainian and American citizens involved in this unlawful plan….representatives of lobbying firm Wiley Rein, LLP, Joe Williamson and Ralph Caccia…were hired by Tymoshenko’s husband, Alexander, for creating her positive image in the USA and to discredit Ukrainian investigators,” he writes.

“Also among those mentioned was former U.S. Congressman Jim Slattery, who lobbied Tymoshenko’s interests in the U.S. Congress and before the State Department, using personal relationships with the head of the U.S. State Department, Mrs. Hillary Clinton. There was also the lawyer Steve Bunnell, who assisted present Assistant Attorney General of the USA,” adds Kuzmin.

Tymoshenko certainly has resources.

Along with her husband Alexander, she amassed a huge fortune with their now-defunct corporation, the United Energy Systems Ukraine (UESU), a gas-trading entity that included venture capital firms, and two banks.

As a result, there was a point in time when the Tymoshenkos controlled 25 percent of the Ukrainian economy.

Her daughter Eugenia has also made a great effort to keep her mother’s “plight” front and center in the media.

Yet Kuzmin remains undaunted.

He claims there is reason to believe that the murder of Scherban, as well as that of Donetsk businessman Alexander Momo, were part of a plan to eliminate potential competitors to UESU.

Kuzmin also maintains that former Ukrainian Attorney General Svyatoslav Piskun may be held accountable for illegally closing a criminal case against UESU.

Officials in the Obama administration have made no secret of their intentions to frame Tymoshenko’s ordeal in terms of a Ukrainian power struggle between those who wish to align themselves with their former Soviet allies, and those who wish to move towards the West.

Furthermore, both the European Union and the United States are considering sanctions against the the Yanukovich administration, due to what they perceive as “growing authoritarianism” exercised by his government.

Yet whether such sanctions are justified or not is irrelevant.

Renat Kuzmin claims he has “enough grounds to bring charges.”

Yet despite requests to get documentary evidence from the DOJ, the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office “received no response to these requests for copies of this documentation” to date.

Near the end of his letter to president Obama, Kuzmin makes the simplest request of all.

“Dear Mr. President, I ask for your assistance in establishing the truth,” he writes.

Such assistance ought to be forthcoming – unless there is something else an administration mired in scandals wishes to keep from public view.

Source: Front Page Mag

Speaker Opposes Constitution Referendum

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine should not try to approve its new constitution at a referendum and should rather do this by adopting amendments in Parliament, Parliamentary Speaker Volodymyr Rybak said Wednesday.

Volodymyr Rybak

“In my view, the constitution cannot be approved by referendum,” Rybak said in a statement released by Parliament.

“The constitution must be approved by Parliament.”

The comment underscores a change after acting Justice Minister Oleksandr Lavrynovych, who until recently was widely expected to be approved as the speaker of Parliament, said last month the constitution may be approved at a referendum. 

President Viktor Yanukovych last week personally picked Rybak over Lavrynovych to be nominated and supported as the new speaker of Parliament following October 28 parliamentary elections.

Rybak’s comments ease fears among opposition groups that Yanukovych may try to approve the amendments at a referendum, skipping the lengthy and legally challenging process of getting the amendments approved in Parliament.

The speculation said Yanukovych may seek an easy way of getting re-elected to a second term in office by changing the constitution to allow election of the next president in Parliament as opposed to a nation-wide vote.

This plan suffered a setback on October 28 when Yanukovych’s Regions Party failed to collect enough votes that would guarantee easy approval of the amendments in Parliament.

Legislation calls for amending Ukraine’s constitution in three separate steps: first, with the approval by 226-vote majority in Parliament, approval by the Constitutional Court and then by 300-vote majority in 450-seat Parliament.

The process may take at least 6 months.

Yanukovych’s plans to seek his re-election in March 2015 have suffered a setback after the recent parliamentary elections showed overwhelming support for opposition parties.

Yanukovych established a panel a year ago to draft new amendments to the constitution, but the amendments hadn’t yet been released.

The panel is led by former President Leonid Kravchuk, who has earlier this year spoke against using referendum for approval of the new constitution.

The speculation about the planned use of referendum intensified after the approval of the law on referendum earlier this year.

The bill was allegedly drafted by the Justice Ministry, led by Lavrynovych, according to Yuriy Karmazyn, a lawmaker from the opposition Our Ukraine group. 

Source: Ukrainian Journal

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Ukraine’s Arms To Syria Set To Grow, While Ukrainian Nationals Are Targeted By Anti-Assad Forces

KIEV, Ukraine -- A meeting in Morocco on December 12 by The Friends of Syria representing 100 countries recognized the opposition National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Force as the sole representative of the Syrian people.


Ukrainian S-125-2D surface-to-air missiles.

The step opens the way for increased humanitarian and military assistance for opposition forces seeking the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad.

Ukraine will likely be one of the countries seeking to capitalize on this new development and export weapons to Syrian opposition forces through Arab proxies.

The former Soviet Union and Ukraine have long-term experience in supplying weapons to the Middle East and Africa.

President Viktor Yanukovych’s administration has been pragmatic about exporting arms to warring parties and states—including to those opposed by Russia.

In particular, Ukrainian-made weapons have been delivered to insurgents in Syria through Saudi Arabian proxies.

However, the Ukrainian foreign ministry denies supplying arms to the Syrian rebels.

Ukrainian arms shipments are likely to be part of a covert operation funded by Gulf Sunni supporters of the Syrian rebels.

Weapons crates found in the Syrian city of Aleppo showed the arms were delivered from the Ukrainian port of Gostomel and exported by Dastan Engineering from LCW (Luhansk Cartridge Works), a major ammunition manufacturing plant in Luhansk.

One of LCW’s main exports is the 7.62-mm cartridge used in AK-47 semi-automatic rifles, employed by both sides of the Syrian conflict.

Despite the Ukrainian support they are receiving, Syrian rebels continue to confuse Ukraine with Russia (as both were part of the Soviet Union, a common confusion even in the West).

Furthermore, the anti-Assad forces suspect that Ukraine may in fact be arming both sides of the conflict.

Therefore, Syrian rebels have retaliated by kidnapping Ukrainian and Russian journalists and threatening to attack both countries’ diplomatic missions in Syria.

Syrian rebel suspicion of Ukraine playing both sides was deepened when kidnapped Ukrainian journalist Ankhar Kochnyeva publicly admitted to working for the Russian intelligence services and being a translator for Syrian intelligence.

Soon thereafter, the Ukrayina television channel owned by oligarch Rinat Akhmetov broadcast a videotaped message from Syrian rebel forces in which they threatened:

“From now on Ukrainian embassies, Russian embassies, citizens of these countries, and also Iranians will become targets for our forces. We call upon our forces to not permit Ukrainians, Russians or Iranians to leave Syria alive”.

The Free Syrian Amy also threatened to execute Kochnyeva.

The Syrian civil war represents only the latest case of Ukraine being involved in supplying weapons to an ongoing violent conflict.

For example, the Central African Republic and Chad each purchased Mi-24B combat helicopters and portable air-defense systems from Ukraine that in both cases were used in domestic civil wars and to support guerrilla groups in neighboring states.

Additionally, in 2010–2011, Aerotekhnika MLT, a plant based in the town of Makariv in the Kiev region, delivered four upgraded S-125 anti-aircraft missile systems to Uganda with each system including radar, a control cabin and four launchers.

Uganda has used Ukrainian arms to battle the domestic Lord Resistance Army guerrilla group and provide support to groups in Sudan and Rwanda.

Since 2010, Ukraine has also supplied 200 tanks to Ethiopia worth $100 million, and ten upgraded S-125-2D surface-to-air missiles were exported to an undisclosed African country.

Backed by logistical support from the United States, Ethiopia has cooperated with Kenya in the struggle against Islamist forces in neighboring Somalia.

In 2011, Ukraine exported tanks and upgraded armored personnel carriers (APCs) to Sudan and Ethiopia.

Sudan also received 30 BM-21 Grad armored rocket launchers, 30 122-milimeter 2S1 Hvozdika self-propelled artillery systems, and 42 anti-missile systems.

Some of the weapons used by Sudan against the newly independent Southern Sudan included tanks from Ukraine (as well as China).

By their clandestine nature, Ukrainian arms deliveries to the Syrian rebels resemble Ukrainian arms supplied to the Croatian army and Kosovo Albanian separatists in the 1990s as part of covert operations supported at the time by the United States.

More recently, in 2011–2012, the US and Germany respectively purchased 144,000 and 54,000 Ukrainian small arms for training purposes.

These could be meant for covert operations, the Soviet weapons providing the US with deniability as to the supplier.

A similar strategy was used in the 1980s by the US in Afghanistan when it supplied Soviet weapons—captured by Israel in Lebanon and sent through Pakistan—to the anti-Soviet Mujahedeen.

The strategy backfired when the Mujahedeen, still in possession of the weaponry supplied by Washington, became the Taliban.

Thus, if the Assad regime is overthrown and an extremist new government—armed with Ukrainian weaponry—takes power in Damascus, history could repeat itself. 

Source: The Jamestown Foundation

37 Dead In Ukraine Cold Spell

KIEV, Ukraine -- The cold weather comes as heavy snowfall in the eastern European nation blocked key roads, leaving hundreds of cars stranded.


Ukraine is currently in the grip of a cold spell that has killed dozens of people.

Ukrainian health officials say 37 people have died from the severe cold spell that hit the country this month.

Temperatures have dropped as low as 2 degrees F.

The Health Ministry said Tuesday that 190 people have sought medical help for hypothermia, of which 162 people have been hospitalized.

No health official would say how the deaths occurred, but victims in previous cold spells have been mostly the homeless and elderly people.

Authorities have set up some 1,500 centers around the country to provide food and shelter.

The cold weather comes as heavy snowfall in the eastern European nation blocked key roads, leaving hundreds of cars stranded.

Source: USA Today

Monday, December 17, 2012

Ukraine Judge And Family Beheaded

KHARKIV, Ukraine -- The beheaded bodies of a Ukrainian judge and three members of his family have been found in their apartment in the eastern city of Kharkiv.


The gruesome crime scene was uncovered on Saturday by a relative, who found the bodies of Judge Vladimir Trofimov, his wife Irina, their son Sergei, and the son's girlfriend, Marina Zoueva.

As of Sunday evening, the corpses' heads had not been found, officials said.

The son appeared to have been decapitated while alive, whereas the other victims' heads were removed after they were already dead, Ukrainian Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko said.

Prosecutor Viktor Pshonka said the quadruple slaying had been carefully planned.

At least three motives were being considered, including whether the killings were connected to the judge's professional activities, or were the result of a robbery gone bad at his home.

Vladimir Trofimov was also a renowned antiques collector.

The slayings could have also been carried out by a contract killer, Pshonka said, adding that investigators would consider any other possible motive.

The probe is being closely watched by President Viktor Yanukovich.

Witnesses saw the 58-year-old judge leave his apartment, then return between 8.30 and 10am on Saturday.

Trofimov had been a magistrate for more than 30 years.

He was also an internationally known collector of rare coins, World War II medals and china statuettes.

His wife Irina was 59, their son Sergei was 30 and Marina Zoueva was 29.

Several antiques were missing and investigators were to question collectors who knew Trofimov.

Pshonka said some evidence showed at least two people were involved in the killings.

Dozens of investigators and experts were working on the case, Zakharchenko said, and additional information was expected from forensics experts.

Domestic secret service SBU chief Igor Kalinin said police and SBU experts were part of the investigation.

Trifomov was "a very discreet, peaceful and modest man", Kharkiv appeals court president Andrei Solokov told Interfax news agency.

"The fact that his parents are still alive adds to the tragedy," said Solokov.

Trifomov's father is 90 and his mother is 86.

Source: AAP

Sunday, December 16, 2012

To Maintain Ukraine: Was Money Spent In Vain?

KIEV, Ukraine -- According to the Journal of Public Procurement in Ukraine, the government spent almost 60 million euros ($79 million) on the needs of President Viktor Yanukovych and his clerks in 2012.


Viktor Yanukovych, pictured on a visit to New Delhi Dec. 10, spent more than 750,000 euros ($987,000) on renting a high-class fleet of presidential aircraft.

Working for the public finance project Our Money, the researchers Lesya Ivanova and Yuriy Nikolov published the figure in the Ukrainian edition of Forbes magazine.

Such information about government funds and its use is technically available to anyone.

"The tricky part is to process the data and find all the possible purchases and expenses connected to the life of the president and the subordinate institutions," Nikolov said.

"All in all, it took us a year to collect the information and three days to analyze the data."

They found that such expenses included seemingly excessive renovation of state property and facilities.

For instance, in the past three years, almost 23 million euros ($30 million) was spent on the reconstruction of the Synhora residence in the Carpathian Mountains.

The government spent 2.8 million euros ($3.7 million) just to build a guest house, 2.2 million euros ($2.9 million) on staff quarters and another 2.2 million euros ($2.9 million) on a gazebo.

The Ukrainian news channel TVi has reported, however, that the "gazebo" is actually a restaurant where the president plans to celebrate New Year's Eve.

More money went to the state's summer residences.

All in all, 8.8 million euros ($11.6 million) was allocated for various reconstructions.

Reportedly, a little more than 140,000 euros ($184,000) was spent on digital television equipment.

Various other leisure-oriented projects saw inflated funding, as well.

For example, 11.4 million euros ($15 million) went toward reconstructing the road that connects Kiev with the Dneprovsko-Teterevsky hunting grounds.

Maintaining the state administration's garage also drew lots of cash.

As of January 2012, it contained 385 cars, including 55 different Mercedes-Benz models, 22 Toyota Land Cruisers and three BMWs.

Overall, the government spent 1.2 million euros ($1.6 million) on gasoline alone.

The state also ordered train auto carriers for 1.2 million euros ($1.6 million).

Reportedly, every time Yanukovych leaves Kiev, his cars are sent ahead to meet him at the destination.

As much as the president loves to travel by car, he really seems to have a thing for flying, as well.

More than 600,000 euros ($790,000) was spent on renting two AgustaWestland AW-139 helicopters.

They are reportedly equipped with plasma TV sets, climate control and leather interiors.

Another 150,000 euros ($197,000) was used to pay the rent on the VIP plane Falcon 900.

Such a machine has all the necessary utilities for the president's comfort: a multimedia center, satellite communications, a kitchen and leather seats that easily transform into beds.

According to Nikolov, neither the government nor the opposition reacted to the release of the information.

In fact, the article was not aimed at the ruling powers at all.

"The only thing that may influence the government is something really frightening like the closing of a bank account abroad or Maydan," Nikolov said, referring to 2004's Orange Revolution.

The main purpose of releasing the figures was to aid the public in making an informed judgment on Yanukovych, Nikolov said.

"As opposed to the Czech Republic, in Ukraine television and Internet publications are separated by an abyss when it comes to the concept of freedom of speech," Nikolov said.

According to him, Ukrainian TV reports on governmental actions with a positive or merely neutral air.

Source: Prague Post

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Ukraine's Prime Minister Gets New Lease On Life

KIEV, Ukraine -- Mykola Azarov is back at his old job in Ukraine. The country's newly constituted parliament has once again chosen him as prime minister.


The result shows that the ruling party has a stable majority. No big surprises.

The Ukraine parliament in Kiev on Thursday re-elected Mykola Azarov to the post of prime minister.

The candidate, who is also chairman of the ruling Party of the Regions, was proposed by his ally, President Viktor Yanukovych, and dutifully received 252 votes in the 450-seat chamber.

The country's parliamentary president, Volodymyr Rybak, also a member of Yanukovych's party, was elected the same day.

The vote took place a day later than scheduled.

Fists literally flew: expensive suits, and many a face, suffered from the confrontation, as parliament convened Wednesday for its first session since elections in October.

Deputies from the opposition tussled with colleagues from the Party of the Regions following disagreements over voting procedures.

Yanukovych took the safe path 

Just 10 days ago, Azarov - along with his entire cabinet - resigned, staying on as a caretaker government.

At the time, there was much speculation in Kiev that he would be replaced by the much younger head of the Ukrainian national Bank, Serhij Arbuzov, who is close to the Yanukovych family.

That could have been viewed as an attempt to bring in some fresh political blood, but instead the president went for the tried and tested option.

"With the selection of Azarov, Yanukovych opted to maintain the status quo," Arsen Stezkiv, of the Kiev-based Razumkov Center for Economic and Political Studies, told DW.

Olexij Haran, a professor of political science at Kiev's Mohyla Academy, said Yanukovych wanted to go the safe route.

"Since the parliamentary election, his Party of the Regions is vulnerable," said Haran, stressing that it was entirely possible that there would have been no majority for another candidate.

The parliamentary election on October 28 left the ruling Party of the Regions with around 30 percent of the vote, about two percent less than the last ballot.

However, Thursday's vote in parliament was a clear indication that the president's party, with the backing of the Communists, has a comfortable majority.

This is also a result of the direct mandates, or those candidates who won seats outright against their opponents.

The three opposition parties together, which won more than half the votes by party list but had fewer direct mandates, therefore fell short in terms of the total number of seats and are left with little influence in parliament.

Economic crisis Experts agree that economic considerations also prompted Yanukovych to go against swapping prime ministers.

"Ukraine has gotten itself into macro-economic difficulties," say Ricardo Guicci and Robert Kirchner from the German Economic Consulting Group in Kiev.

In the third quarter of 2012, Gross National Product (GDP) dropped 1.3 percent compared to a year earlier, they said.

Industrial production in October slumped a precipitous 4.2 percent, and Ukraine's currency reserves in 2012 nose dived 15 percent.

Negotiations for a fresh line of credit from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have stalled, and if this trend continues, the German experts in Kiev say, then Ukraine's economic crisis will get even worse by no later than spring 2013.

"Considering the difficult economic situation, the new prime minister will probably be forced to make unpopular decisions," says political scientist Haran.

It is entirely possible that Azarov makes these decision and then resigns to make room for a younger successor, he added.

Source: Deutsche Welle