Friday, May 31, 2013

Ukraine Court Ruling On Kiev Mayor Election ‘Pro-Government’

KIEV, Ukraine -- There have been calls for protests in Ukraine following a court decision over the election of Kiev’s mayor that is seen as beneficial to the government and damaging to the opposition.


The Constitutional Court ruled that the vote in the capital, an opposition stronghold, should not take place until October 2015.

Kiev’s last elected mayor resigned a year ago and President Yanukovich appointed a ruling party member in his place.

The opposition have condemned the court’s decision.

“The government clearly understands that any opposition candidate will beat any pro-government candidate. If elections were to be held (now) for Kiev City Council, then 90 percent of seats would be won by the opposition,” said Vitali Klitschko from the UDAR party.

The opposition now wants to block the city council’s work.

The reason the court gave for its decision was that all local elections should happen simultaneously.

“Every Ukrainian citizen must abide by the court’s ruling. Anyone can express their opinion or discuss the decision, but it must be implemented. Parliament will set a date (for the election), as indicated by the Constitutional Court,” said Volodymyr Makeienko, an MP from the governing Party of Regions.

The issue has brought street protests and even a fight inside city hall.

At last year’s general election opposition parties collectively won almost 95 percent of the vote in Kiev.

It is thought the impact of the court’s decision could be felt beyond the capital. 

Evgeniya Rudenko, euronews correspondent in Kiev, said:

“The Constitutional court’s ruling means Kiev will remain without an elected mayor for over two years. Analysts say it favours the government as the opposition won’t be able to use elections in the capital as a platform for a future presidential poll.”

Source: euronews

US Trade Regulator Opens Online Piracy Investigation Into Ukraine

WASHINGTON, DC -- The United States has opened an investigation into Ukraine for its failure to enforce intellectual property rights, such as curbing government use of pirated software, the top U.S. trade regulator said on Thursday.


Miriam Sapiro

The launch of the investigation comes after the U.S. Trade Representative put Ukraine on the top of its annual watch list of countries that it says fail to crack down on online piracy and intellectual property violations.

The list is part of an annual report, known as the Special 301, that USTR publishes to put a spotlight on websites and countries where it believes online piracy is rife. 

“The United States has identified serious concerns with Ukraine’s treatment of intellectual property rights, as described in our Special 301 Report,” Acting U.S. Trade Representative Miriam Sapiro said in a statement.

“We will consult with the Government of Ukraine on the practices that led us to initiate this investigation.”

In the report, the trade regulator argues that the Ukrainian government has not cracked down on online pirate sites and illicit groups that profit from collecting royalties payments that are based within the country.

USTR also calls out the country's failure to take action against ExtraTorrent.com, which it says is one of the most highly trafficked pirate sites in the world.

The Ukrainian has government has admitted to using pirated software, USTR says, and has not taken steps to rectify the problem although it's previously committed to do so.

"The government of Ukraine acknowledges that a significant percentage of the software used by the government itself is unlicensed," the Special 301 report states. 

As part of its investigation, USTR has started collecting comments from stakeholders about Ukraine's performance on protecting intellectual property rights and will hold a public hearing in July.

The Recording Association of America (RIAA), which represents top music labels in the U.S., cheered the trade regulator's decision to launch the investigation into Ukraine.

“For far too long, Ukraine has tolerated, and in some instances even encouraged, the establishment of conditions that undermine the protection of legitimate property interests to the great detriment of U.S., Ukrainian and other cultural communities,” Neil Turkewitz, executive vice president at the RIAA said in a statement.

The music industry lobby has lobbied hard over the years for stronger rules against websites that illegally offer copyrighted songs.

It has also pushed for royalties rules that would fairly compensate its labels and recording artists.

"We of course have no interest in punishing Ukraine through the imposition of trade sanctions, but it is long overdue for the Ukrainians to promote the rule of law and live up to their international obligations," Turkewitz added.

Source: The Hill

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Kyrgyzstan To Join Russian-Led Customs Union, Ukraine To Observe

ASTANA, Kazakhstan -- Officials at a meeting of the governing board of a Russian-led Eurasian customs union say Kyrgyzstan will join the grouping and Ukraine will be granted observer status.


Presidents Viktor Yanukovych (L) of Ukraine, Alyaksandr Lukashenka of Belarus, Nursultan Nazarbaev of Kazakhstan, Vladimir Putin of Russia, and Almazbek Atambaev at their meeting in Astana on May 29.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev announced the changes on May 29 after the gathering in Astana of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council -- the governing body of the Customs Union of Kazakhstan, Russia, and Belarus.

Nazarbaev told journalists that experts are now working on a road map that would allow Bishkek to join the group by 2015.

Documents granting Ukraine observer status in the Customs Union will be ready by autumn 2013, the Kazakh president added.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych told reporters in Almaty that a memorandum on his country’s observer status will be signed in Minsk on May 31. 

Nazarbaev says the Eurasian integration process through the Customs Union is a purely economic process and has nothing to do with politics.

Economic integration will not affect the political independence of member states in any way, he insists.

The United States has expressed opposition in the past to what some regard as Russian-led efforts to reintegrate in the region.

Then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in 2012 that "it's not going to be called [the U.S.S.R.], it's going to be called customs union, it will be called Eurasian Union and all of that."

She suggested that U.S. officials were seeking ways to "slow down or prevent" such moves.

Sergei Glazier, an adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, said in Astana on May 29 that Ukraine's decision "to resume its integration into Eurasian economic structures" cannot be carried out along with Kiev's European Union association bids.

But Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Boiko told journalists after the summit that he does not expect any objections from the European Commission over Kiev's plans for observer status in the customs union. 

Ukraine has been considering Euro-Atlantic integration as its primary foreign policy objective since the mid-1990s.

The European Union's Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Ukraine went into force in 1998.

This week's summit between the Kazakh, Russian, and Belarusian presidents also included participation by Yanukovych and Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev. 

The summit focused on further integration and plans to form a Eurasian Economic Union by 2015 -- a bloc they say would be modeled after the European Union. 

Nazarbaev said the one of the documents approved at the gathering will serve to enlarge the range of the Customs Union's trading partners.

Leaders at the Astana summit also approved plans to create an integrated information system that would detail trade between members of the Customs Union and with other nations.

They also agreed to cooperate together on the creation of statistical reports.

Source: Radio Free Europe

Ukraine Is Among Top 50 World Gold Holders

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine’s gold reserves are estimated at more than 36.1 tonnes, according to the national bank, and is ranked 47 in world standings.


In March Ukraine was 51 according to the World Gold Council.

For the second consecutive year Ukraine is trying to diversify its international reserves and is actively buying gold on both foreign and domestic markets.

However the price is turbulent and experts argue, whether the Central Bank should join in the rush or wait until the price settles.

There have been reports Ukraine is going to start gold mining.

Experts estimate Ukraine’s gold resources at 400 tons in the Carpathian Mountains and 500 tons in the Donbass region.

Some gold is also believed to be in the Crimea and Dnepropetrovsk regions.

Right now Ukraine has no gold production of its own and buys around 5 tonnes of gold a year.

Domestic production of gold could start this year, the deputy head of National Bank, Vera Rychakovskya said.

In three to five years Ukraine is expected to produce at least one ton of gold domestically and gradually increase capacity which will allow to cut imports by a third.

Source: Russia Today

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Kiev Seeking Trade Bloc Observer Status

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine is looking to become an observer at a Russian-led trade bloc and parties may finally agree on the status during a high-level meeting on May 29 in Astana, an official said Monday.


Andriy Honcharuk

Andriy Honcharuk, President Viktor Yanukovych’s top foreign policy aide, said the status would allow Ukraine to get involved in policy discussions at the Customs Union, and should not prevent closer integration with the European Union.

“We’re working out, and I stress we haven’t yet, the formula of cooperation with the Customs Union,” Honcharuk said at a press conference.

“A working group, led by Deputy Prime Minister Yuriy Boyko, has come up with a draft proposal that will be discussed.”

The comment comes a day after a surprise meeting between Yanukovych and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on Sunday.

Neither Putin nor Yanukovych made any remarks after the meeting, which lasted five hours.

The plan for obtaining the observer status at the Customs Union, which includes Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, comes after Putin has rejected Yanukovych’s earlier idea, known as ‘the formula 3+1’.

The idea called for Ukraine having a say in some of the Customs Union policies without actually getting a full-fledged membership, which would effectively prevent Ukraine’s further integration with the EU.

Honcharuk went to stress that the status will not be signed at the meeting in Astana on May 29, but will be rather “agreed.”

“It will be agreed,” Honcharuk said.

“Please, don’t make a mistake here” that it will be signed, he said addressing reporters.

The developments come as Ukraine has been also seeking to sign a free trade and political association agreement with the EU at a summit in November in Vilnius.

The plans for obtaining the observer status at the Customs Union may seem as controversial for a country that has been working to sign the agreement with the European Union.

Honcharuk’s remarks seem to allay those concerns.

Honcharuk also denied a newspaper report on Monday that Russia has agreed to grant Ukraine the observer status in exchange for getting a controlling stake in Ukraine’s natural gas transportation system.

“I would like to stress that these processes are not connected,” Honcharuk said.

“The two move in parallel mode.”

Yanukovych and Putin made little progress at their meeting in Zavidovo near Moscow on March 4 after Russia had refused to lower natural gas prices for Ukraine, according to Yanukovych.

Putin and Yanukovych planned, but skipped, a meeting in April.

Russia said earlier it would lower the prices if Ukraine joins the Customs Union, which is supposed to be renamed the Eurasian Economic Union in 2015 following a closer integration between the member states.

Yanukovych is likely to join the meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council, the top economic governing body of the Eurasian Economic Union on May 29 in Astana, Kazakhstan.

Russia has recently intensified its pressure on Ukraine with threats of trade restrictions and other measures to punish Ukraine in the event Kiev signs the agreement with the European Union.

Mikhail Zurabov, the Russian ambassador to Ukraine, warned on Saturday about “red lines” that will come into effect if Ukraine agrees to sign the agreement with the EU.

But there may be another reason for accelerated contracts between Yanukovych and the Customs Union leaders.

“By holding talks with the Customs Union, Ukraine is blackmailing the Europeans a little bit,” Volodymyr Fesenko, the head of the Penta political consultancy, said.

“That is, if the EU refuses to sign the political association and free trade agreement with Ukraine, the country would move towards the Customs Union.”

Source: Ukrainian Journal

Ukraine's Bubka Launches IOC Presidency Bid

ST PETERSBURG, Russia -- Former Olympic pole vault champion Sergei Bubka launched his bid for the presidency of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Tuesday, the sixth candidate for world sport's most influential post.


Retired Ukrainian pole vaulter Sergey Bubka.

"This was always natural for me. Sport is in my blood, it is in my genes," the Ukrainian said when asked about his decision to run as the youngest candidate.

The new president will be elected on September 10.

"I have big experience in different activities, from athlete to sports administrator to businessman. I love sports, this is my life," the 49-year-old, dressed in a dark suit and a bright red tie, said on the sidelines of a sports conference.

"I have passion, drive, motivation. I want to give something back to the movement." Bubka joins Germany's Thomas Bach, Singapore's Ng Ser Miang, C.K. Wu of Taiwan, Puerto Rican Richard Carrion and Swiss Denis Oswald in a six-way contest.

Bach, an Olympic fencing champion in 1976 and a long-time sports official, is regarded as the frontrunner.

But the outcome is still wide open and could be influenced by two other votes - for the 2020 Games' hosts and the introduction of a new Olympic sport - taking place days before the president's election.

Jacques Rogge, in charge since 2001, is stepping down in September when his two-term rule comes to a mandatory end.

Bubka won gold at the Seoul 1988 Olympics and is a member of the powerful IOC executive board as well as a senior vice-president of the world athletics body, IAAF.

He broke the world record 35 times, won 10 indoor and outdoor world championships and took part in four Olympics in a career which took off in St Petersburg with his qualification for the 1983 World Championships, his breakthrough moment.

Before deciding to run for the top Olympic post, Bubka, still the world record holder in his sport, was regarded as one of two likely candidates to succeed Lamine Diack as head of the IAAF.

The other is London 2012 Games chief Sebastian Coe.

Asked why he opted to run for the top IOC post instead of the IAAF position given his past as a track and field athlete, Bubka said: "I am here because of athletics. But today we have elections for the IOC. This is a good time to run for the IOC presidency."

Bubka backed a proposal by Rogge that it should be a paid position.

"I am not paid by the (Ukrainian) Olympic Committee, the IOC or the IAAF," Bubka, who also heads his country's national Olympic committee.

"But I support the proposal because the president needs to be full time in the office."

He said he would give his salary to charity if he were elected.

The IOC will vote on the successor to Rogge, a Belgian surgeon and Olympic sailor, at their session in Buenos Aires on September 10.

All but one of the IOC presidents in the history of the organization have been European.

Source: Yahoo Sports

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Ukraine May Greenlight Joint Gas Transportation With Russia

MOSCOW, Russia -- Ukraine may reportedly allow Russia into its gas transportation system in return for lower prices.


The price Ukraine pays for Russian gas has been a bone of contention for the two countries and this may bring them a step closer to better energy relations.

The Ukrainian authorities are ready to let Russia control the main gas pipeline, while the Ukrainian East European fuel and energy company (Vetek) will oversee local gas distribution, according to a Kommersant source.

Problems with holes in Ukraine’s budget, and falling demand for steel are the main reasons Ukraine agreed to concessions, the source added.

“We are ready to accept the conditions of the Russian party in return for lower gas prices, when Gazprom becomes a key consortium player and its rights are fixed by law,” Kommersant Ukraine quoted its sources.

A Russian-Ukrainian consortium for the management of the Ukrainian gas transport system will be in Kiev's interests, the first deputy speaker of the Ukraine parliament Igor Kaletnik said in an interview with the Zerkalo Nedeli weekly published on Saturday.

Such a consortium will make it possible to get “cheaper gas and to increase the efficiency of Ukrainian companies,” Kaletnik added.

According to Kaletnik, the Communist Party, which he represents, is ready to support the decision to set up such a consortium but on condition that “a mechanism is provided to keep the Ukrainian gas transport system in the ownership of the state.”

The high price tag of Russian gas for the Ukrainians has caused a number of disputes between the countries, sometimes leading to disruptions in gas deliveries.

“It [the gas contract] is killing us,” said Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych earlier.

The President said Ukraine’s 10-year gas contract with Russia’s Gazprom was costing the country about $6bln.

Earlier the Ukrainian President said the country was going to cut its supplies from Russia despite previous agreements.

The plan was to cut its gas purchases from Russia by half in 2013 – to between 18 to 20 billion cubic metres.

Ukraine transits 80% of Russia’s gas to Europe, which makes thousands of European homes dependent on the relations between Moscow and Kiev.

In the winter of 2009 Europeans suffered from one of the gas rows, when Kiev blocked transit pipelines from Russia to Europe and families across Europe had their mid-winter heating stopped.

Today with the alternative routes to Europe – Nord Stream and South Stream – Russia is no longer as dependent on Ukrainian gas transportation as it was in 2009. 

A joint transportation system will make gas deliveries through Ukraine more reliable for Russia.

Russia and Ukraine have been negotiating over a joint consortium based on the Ukrainian gas transportation system for about six months.

Uniting the transportation systems will see a cut in the price of gas to Ukraine to about $260 – 280 per thousand cubic meters.

Russia has always been reluctant to cut the price it sells gas to Ukraine.

Valery Yazev, the first deputy head for natural resources at Russia’s State Duma, now says lower gas prices for Ukraine may come about, should the choice become about losing the Ukrainian market.

Gazprom is keeping the gas price as high as possible for Ukraine as it has to make a profit, but if there is a chance to lose the contract, it’ll make a small allowance for Ukraine, Yazev explained.

In the 1Q 2013 Ukraine’s Naftogaz paid $406 per thousand cubic metres for Russian gas.

Source: Russia Today

Tymoshenko Supports Ukraine – EU Agreement

WARSAW, Poland -- Former Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski and former president of the European Parliament Pat Cox met Yulia Tymoshenko in a prison hospital in Kharkiv on Sunday after she indicated she would support the EU signing an associate agreement with the ex-Soviet state.


Yulia Tymoshenko

After a two-and-a-half hour meeting, the two special envoys of the European Parliament to monitor the situation in Ukraine left without talking to reporters.

Their mission was recently extended until at least September.

A few weeks ago Kwasniewski said that the aim of their mission is to remove the obstacles on the road to Ukraine’s association agreement with the European Union, which is expected to be signed in Vilnius in November.

Yulia Tymoshenko is serving a seven-year prison term, which according to EU officials is politically motivated.

Head of the EU Delegation to Ukraine Jan Tombinski has said that the former PM would give her support to Ukraine's associate agreement, however, after he met Tymoshenko last week.

"Yulia Tymoshenko shared with us her opinion and assessment of Ukraine's relations with the EU and other partners. She expressed her decisive support to the signing of the Association Agreement by the end of this year," he told journalists last Thursday.

Source: Polskie Radio

Monday, May 27, 2013

Yanukovych Meets Putin To Discuss Trade

SOCHI, Russia -- President Viktor Yanukovych traveled to Russia on Sunday for a surprise meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to discuss urgent trade issues, Yanukovych’s press service reported.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych (file photo).

The meeting comes amid growing speculation that Yanukovych may join a meeting later this month of the top governing body of the customs Union, the trade organization of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, in Astana.

The developments follow Russian threats to impose trade restrictions on Ukraine if the country goes ahead and signs a free trade and political association agreement with the European Union.

“We have a wealth of traditional relations - political contacts, economic ties and humanitarian. As usually happens in these cases, we have things to talk about,” Putin told Yanukovych shortly before their meeting in Sochi.

“Thank you for having accepted the invitation.”

Yanukovych responded that trade issues resonate with Ukraine and the countries should finally start making progress on the talks.

"Whenever we can, we should address questions of this kind,” Yanukovych said.

“We will work through traditional agenda today and we will slowly move forward."

The surprise meeting comes less than two months after Yanukovych and Putin made little progress at a meeting in Zavidovo near Moscow on March 4.

Russia has then refused to lower natural gas prices for Ukraine, Yanukovych said later in March, suggesting a greater progress would be made by the time of the next meeting in April, a meeting that had never materialized.

Russia said earlier it would lower the prices if Ukraine joins the Customs Union, a Russia-led trade bloc that also includes Belarus and Kazakhstan.

The joining of the Customs Union, however, would derail Ukraine’s plans for closer cooperation with the European Union, postponing indefinitely the free trade and political association agreement between Kiev and Brussels.

The agreement may be signed in November at a summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, if Ukraine makes sufficient progress in streamlining its election and judicial systems. 

Yanukovych may join a meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council, the top economic governing body of the Eurasian Economic Union on May 29 in Astana, Kazakhstan, a source at the Yanukovych administration told Interfax.

The Eurasian Economic Union is a broader economic bloc that in addition to Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan also includes Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

“There is high probability that Viktor Fedorovych [Yanukovych] will come to Astana,” Mikhail Zurabov, the Russian ambassador to Ukraine, said Saturday.

The developments come as Russia has recently intensified its pressure on Ukraine with threats of trade restrictions and other measures to punish Ukraine in the event Kiev signs the agreement with Brussels.

“It makes sense now to talk about red lines that must be taken into account should the agreement be signed,” Zurabov said, adding that Ukraine has not yet fulfilled its commitments for signing the agreement.

Source: Ukrainian Journal

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Ukraine Stages First Ever Gay Pride March

KIEV, Ukraine -- About 100 activists have staged Ukraine's first gay pride march in the capital Kiev, ignoring a court ban.


Gay rights activists marched for about 30 min away from the city centre.

"This can be considered a historic day," Olena Semenova, one of the organisers, said.

Police arrested 13 people for trying to break up the rally - in a country where homophobia is widespread and generally accepted.

In neighbouring Russia, more than 20 gay activists were detained by police at an unsanctioned rally in Moscow.

The campaigners tried to march on Russia's parliament building, denouncing what they described as "homophobic" legislation recently approved by MPs.

The bill bans "gay propaganda" in an effort to protect children, but human rights campaigners say its real aim is to curb the rights of sexual minorities.

'Kiev is not Sodom' 

In Kiev, the gay-rights activists marched outside the city centre amid a heavy police presence.

"This event will go down in the history of Ukraine as one of the key developments in the fight for equal rights," Ms Semenova said.

A number of protesters - including Orthodox Church members - gathered nearby to denounce the march. 

"Ukraine is not America, Kiev is not Sodom," they chanted.

The event was held despite an earlier court ruling banning such gatherings.

City authorities had argued that a gay march would clash with the annual Kiev Day festivities and could lead to violence.

The authorities cited 500 complaints from the public to justify their court petition.

A gay-rights event planned for last year in Kiev was called off at the last minute after a gathering of skinheads threatened participants.

A recent Amnesty International report said Ukraine's gay community suffered widespread bias and abuse.

Source: BBC News

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Ukraine, US Jointly Pursue Missile Destruction

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine has opened the rocket engine airframes disposal facility in Dnipropetrovsk oblast.


Soviet paranoia, during the cold war, led to the design of weapons of mass destruction such as the RS-22 (SS-24) inter continental ballistic missile, that could be launched from a moving train.

Its operation allows for environmentally friendly disposal of the RS-22 (SS-24) missile components and contributes to international security.

The launch of the facility has been the result of negotiations between the U.S. President Barack Obama and the President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych back in April 2010.

Ukraine has entered the final stage of the fulfillment of its international commitments stipulated by to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, said the President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych at the opening ceremony.

The newly opened facility will house the destruction of RS-22 missiles, developed in 1980s by the Design Bureau Yuzhnoye in Dnipropetrovsk.

Created to counter American Peacekeeper (the MX missile), RS-22 featured nuclear warheads and had a range of 10,000 kilometers (6,214 miles), informs plesetzk.ru.

Over three years ago, the U.S. has agreed to contribute to the destruction of Ukraine's intercontinental ballistic missiles and its components.

Currently, USA's contribution to the project approaches USD $20 million - 90 percent of the total project cost.

The funding helped create an industrial research center at the Ukrainian chemical plant - Pavlohradskyi Khimichnyi Zavod.

The center allows for environmentally friendly melting of the RS-22 (SS-24) missile airframes, as well as safe waste and solid fuel disposal.

In March 2013, the plant launched landmine destruction line.

Ukraine has been positioning itself as a peaceful country since the declaration of independence in 1991.

It has since been ridding itself of the Soviet military heritage.

In 1992, Ukraine joined the Lisbon Protocol, which made it party to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

In December 1994, Ukraine joined the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and proclaimed its non-nuclear status.

The last nuclear warhead was shipped from Ukraine to Russia in 1996.

In March 2012, Ukraine completely removed the remaining amounts of highly enriched uranium from its territory.

At the moment, Ukraine is disposing of 133,000 tons of obsolete ammunition under the 12-year NATO-Partnership Trust Fund project.

Launched in 2006, the project has entered its second stage in April 2012.

The stage envisions the destruction of conventional munitions, small arms, and three million PFM-1 landmines.

Source: Yahoo Finance

Court Cancels Ukraine's First Gay Pride Rally

KIEV, Ukraine -- A Ukrainian court on Thursday banned what would have been Ukraine's first-ever gay pride demonstration, upholding a suit by city authorities, who argued the rally would disturb annual Kiev Day celebrations and could spark violence.

In this May18, 2013 file photo, activists of a gay flash mob throw balloons into the air marking International Day Against Homophobia in Kiev, Ukraine.

The ruling dashed the hopes of Ukraine's gay and lesbian community, who planned to use the event to fight discrimination and derogatory stereotypes of gays.

Last year, organizers canceled the event at the last minute when skinheads gathered at its planned location, intent on beating up the participants.

Still, two leading activists were brutally beaten by radicals in subsequent weeks.

While the recognition of gay rights advances in much of the West, antipathy toward homosexuals remains strong in Ukraine and other parts of the former Soviet Union.

Homosexuality was a criminal offense in the USSR and societal resistance to it remains strong two decades later.

The highly influential Orthodox Church strongly opposes gay rights.

A small gay pride rally in the capital of Georgia last week was attacked by a large mob that included Orthodox priests; attempted rallies in Moscow in recent years attract crowds of bellicose Orthodox conservatives.

The gay community is now pondering whether to hold the even at a different location, far away from Kiev Day celebrations, or merely hold a press briefly on the banning of the rally.

Amnesty International said in a recent report that Ukraine's gay community suffers attacks and abuses and widespread discrimination.

Despite condemnation from the West, the Ukrainian parliament is debating several anti-gay bills, including one which would make any public positive depiction of homosexuality punishable by up to five years in prison.

Ukraine scored 12 out of 100 points on the so-called Europe rainbow map, a study of gay rights and freedoms conducted by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association.

By comparison, Britain had 77 points.

"There is not enough information about who gays and lesbians really are," said Volodymyr Naumenko, a leading gay rights activist here.

"They are people, first of all, they are people who want happiness for themselves."

While many Western countries debate and pass laws allowing gay marriage and gay adoption, those notions are still a distant dream for Ukrainian gays.

Naumenko said his immediate concern is putting a stop to attacks on gays "and if they do beat you up, let it be prosecuted as a crime based on homophobia."

Last year, a local gay-rights advocacy group, cited by Amnesty International, received 29 reports of violent attacks against gays and 36 complaints of threatened violence.

Most of these crimes went unresolved, Amnesty said.

Last May, the gay pride rally had to be called off at the last minute after scores of thugs had arrived near its planned location looking for trouble — some intent on defending traditional and church values, others with the goal of beating up gays.

Even though the event was canceled, a top organizer was chased down by masked youths who kicked him in the head, legs and arms and then stomped on his back.

Several weeks later another leading gay activist suffered a broken jaw and a concussion when he was attacked by men shouting homophobic insults.

Naumenko, 24, says it took him a while to reveal his sexuality to his friends and parents, but eventually he became tired of having to lie when asked about his plans for a family or having to describe a boyfriend walking next to him as merely a friend, a colleague or a distant cousin.

"It's very unpleasant; you lie to the people who are dear to you," Naumenko told The Associated Press at a hotel on the outskirts of Kiev, where he was training organizers of the Saturday rally to maintain order and react to possible violence.

Already, anti-gay communities on social media were seeking confrontation and plotting counter rallies and attacks.

"How to stop this? Who to write to or call?" asked one member in a posting in one such online group.

"Take a hammer and (strike) the skull," replied another.

Gay community leaders say that less than 1 percent of Ukraine's gays and lesbians are open about their sexual orientation, while the rest are forced to hide from friends and co-workers and deceive their loved ones.

"A situation in which people see you as someone from the Moon or from Mars or from a psychiatric hospital is painful," said Danil Los, a gay 23-year-old medical student who attended Naumenko's seminar.

Source: AP

Friday, May 24, 2013

KIEV, Ukraine -- Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko may have secretly watched opposition protests and street clashes in Kiev on Saturday from a rooftop terrace of a nearby building, a news website reported Wednesday.


Vitaliy Zakharchenko

A picture, taken on Saturday and published by hvylya.org website on Wednesday, shows three men, one of whom strikingly resembling Zakharchenko, on the terrace of the Intercontinental hotel.

The hotel is across the street from where a mob, thought to be hired by the ruling Regions Party, attacked two reporters on Saturday, triggering a major scandal.

The hotel’s location allows simultaneously watching events unfolding at St. Sophia Sq., St. Michael’s Sq. and Velyka Zhytomyrska Street, all key venues of the opposition protest on Saturday.

A spokesman at the Interior Ministry on Wednesday was not available to comment on the picture.

The publication of the picture may increase pressure on Zakharchenko and raise further questions about his role and the role of the police in the developments that had led to street violence.

“The mere presence of the head of police [on the rooftop] is not a crime,” the report said.

“But the context of events dramatically changes the whole thing. The staged actions look like a special operation.”

Zakharchenko on Tuesday was summoned up to Parliament to report on the clashes, but was able to say little besides alleging the opposition groups had been responsible for the violence.

Opposition groups accused Zakharchenko of trying to cover up the attack amid mounting evidence that the mob, later identified as martial arts fighters from Bila Tserkva, had been associated with the Regions Party.

Arseniy Yatseniuk, the leader of the opposition Batkivshchyna party, alleged the clashes were organized and coordinated by a special team set up at the Interior Ministry.

Yatseniuk said Andriy Kliuyev, the secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, a top security body under President Viktor Yanukovych, was allegedly in charge of the operation.

Yatseniuk cited undisclosed sources at the interior ministry for his allegations.

The street clashes and the attack on reporters followed an incident with an armored personnel vehicle, which had been moving along Velyka Zhytomyrska Street towards the opposition rally on St. Sophia Sq.

The vehicle carried a man dressed in a rabbit costume and holding a giant carrot.

The caricature performance was believed to be targeting Yatseniuk in an attempt to diminish him in front of thousands of his supporters.

The vehicle was stopped by the protesters, a development that led to the clash with the mob and later escalated into the attack on reporters.

When asked about the armored personnel vehicle and how was it possible for it to appear on the street of Kiev, Zakharchenko said on Tuesday it was part of the opposition entourage.

But footage uncovered by reporters show the vehicle was accompanied by police cars throughout the city until reaching Velyka Zhytomyrska Street.

At least one picture showed a smiling police officer inside the vehicle.

“The Interior Ministry as a powerful, decent, honest leader who can set an example to the personnel of the ministry is no more in Ukraine,” Oleksandr Dubovoy, a member of the opposition Batkivshchyna party, said.

“How can an ordinary police officer feel himself and act morally if the interior minister is so dishonest and telling a lie to the Ukrainian people,” he said.

Source: Ukrainian Journal

Ukraine Courts Germany Ahead Of Vilnius Summit

Berlin, Germany -- Ukraine is taking “active steps” to win the sympathy of Germany, the country most strongly opposed to the signature of a landmark association agreement with the EU in the absence of a solution to the imprisonment of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, diplomats told EurActiv.

Alexander Vilkul

As part of Ukraine’s campaign to win Germany’s sympathies, the country’s deputy Prime Minister Alexander Vilkul visited Berlin on 22-23 May, meeting with senior German officials in an attempt to highlight economic benefits the Association Agreement will bring to Germany and the European Union as a whole.

The association agreement, totalling more than 1,000 pages, was initialled more than a year ago but its signature is awaiting progress on conditions imposed by the EU, including the release from prison of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko. 

Ukraine hopes to have the Association Agreement signed at the 28-29 November Eastern Partnership summit, held in Vilnius under the Lithuanian EU Presidency. 

Lithuania, Estonia and other EU countries favour the signature of the agreement, in spite of the imprisonment of Tymoshenko, arguing that the Union should not lose Ukraine over the fate of one person.

In Berlin, Vilkul, an influential member of the new Ukrainian government, emphasised that Germany had the largest trade turnover with Ukraine, reaching $9.4 billion (€7.3 billion) in 2012, and has a long history of political relations with Kiev.

Germany is Ukraine's third largest trading partner, letting only Russia and China to take the lead.

In fact, as an EU investor, Germany comes second in Ukraine after Cyprus, but the latter is largely seen as a place from where money from the region is recycled.

“We are grateful to Germany for its enormous contribution to the economic development of Ukraine. We also see great potential for German investments in key sectors of Ukrainian economy. Germany can be a conductor of European investments in our country,” said Vilkul.

A meeting of the Ukrainian-German High Level Group on Economic Cooperation was held, co-chaired by Vilkul and Anna Ruth Gerkes, state secretary of the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology of Germany.

In their statements, both sides confirmed interest in boosting bilateral economic cooperation.

Energy savings, environment, agriculture, banking, road construction and infrastructure were mentioned as areas raising particular interest for German investors in Ukraine.

German banks are already involved in several critically important projects in Ukraine, such as the modernisation of the Ukrainian gas transit system supplying Russian gas to European consumers.

Deutsche Bank has opened a credit line of €53.5 million ($69.2 million) for the modernisation of a pipeline compressor station, and Ukraine is deeply interested in further German involvement in energy security.

Ukraine imports Russian gas from Germany through a reverse-transit system.

According to reports in December Ukraine's Naftogaz paid $407.5 per 1,000 of cubic metrrs of gas imported from Germany, while still paying $429.3 for Russian gas.

Last month, Gazprom warned European companies against re-selling Russian gas to Ukraine.

However, gas market experts say that reverse gas supplies between Ukraine and Europe are legal.

To facilitate trade contacts and investments, the two governments reportedly are working on setting up a Joint German-Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce.

Berlin is also advising Kiev on the establishment of the state Agency tasked to support national producers on foreign markets.

“Germany is a key partner of Ukraine in the European Union and we count on its support,” said Vilkul.

He added that as a “state manager”, he took every effort to create favourable conditions for foreign business in Ukraine.

“We all understand, however, that the Association Agreement between Ukraine and EU will create unprecedented opportunities for German business in Ukraine. Europe will only benefit from this new era of Ukraine’s involvement into common market,” the Ukrainian official pleaded.

Source: EurActiv

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Ukraine PM Bars Reporters From Government Meetings After Protest

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov ordered a dozen local reporters to be barred from covering government meetings after they staged a protest on Wednesday over attacks on journalists at a rally.


Journalists show off signs, pinned to their backs, as they stage a silent protest during a cabinet meeting in Kiev, May 22, 2013.

When reporters at the cabinet meeting stepped in front of television cameras and turned their backs, emblazoned with slogans, on Azarov and his colleagues, the prime minister reacted sharply.

"What kind of show is this?" he said.

The reporters, members of a journalists' pool allowed to attend weekly cabinet meetings, bore signs pinned to their backs reading: "Today it's a female journalist (beaten up), tomorrow - your wife, sister, daughter. Do something!"

Azarov said they should be expelled from the journalists' pool.

"Write down their names and revoke their accreditation," he instructed his aides.

"We respect journalists' work but please do not turn government meetings into a circus."

The two journalists who say they were attacked were covering clashes between supporters and opponents of President Viktor Yanukovich during rallies in Kiev on Saturday.

They say they were beaten by Yanukovich's supporters while police simply stood by.

Police are investigating the allegations but opposition politicians have questioned their willingness to do it thoroughly.

Condemning the attacks, the U.S. embassy in Ukraine said on Wednesday: "Such violent acts have no place where people are exercising their rights to peaceful assembly."

"We call on the Ukrainian authorities to conduct a thorough investigation and urge them to take appropriate action to bring the perpetrators to justice. We also urge the authorities to investigate the apparent inaction by the police during the incident." 

Protests by reporters have become frequent under Yanukovich, who came to power in 2010 and quickly consolidated power by installing his allies in key positions and reversing constitutional changes that had strengthened parliament.

Last March several reporters wore paper masks of Yanukovich when they attended his news conference.

And last year a dozen journalists stood up and raised anti-censorship banners when Yanukovich hailed Ukraine's march to media freedom at the World Newspaper Congress in Kiev.

Some journalists say the government is cracking down on media freedom and the media, most of them controlled by influential businessmen, are censoring themselves so that their owners maintain good standing with the authorities.

Azarov's spokesman Vitaly Lukyanenko said the government's press department would review Wednesday's incident and decide whether to strip the reporters of accreditation.

"How is the prime minister to blame (for the beating of reporters)? Why was he subjected to this slap in the face?" he said.

Source: Yahoo News

Growing Sense Of Polarization And Escalating Tensions In Crimea Ahead Of 69th Anniversary Of Crimean Tatar Deportation

CRIMEA, Ukraine -- Each year on May 18, around 25,000–30,000 Crimean Tatars gather in Crimea’s capital Simferopol to commemorate the 1944 deportation of their parents and grandparents from their historical homeland.


Crimean Tatars commemorating the 1944 deportation by Joseph Stalin.

They come to Simferopol from all cities and towns and conduct a peaceful meeting organized by the Mejlis — the executive body representing the Crimean Tatars — in front of the Crimean Musical Drama Theater in Simferopol’s Central Square and remember the victims of the mass deportation on guarded and sealed cattle-trains.

Of the total Crimean Tatar population at that time, 46.2 percent perished during this forced exile .

Crimea differs from the rest of Ukraine because it is the only autonomous republic with its own unicameral parliament (with 100 members) and Council of Ministers, thus having a similar institutional structure to that of the Ukrainian state.

Under all previous presidents of Ukraine, the planning of this May 18 Crimean Tatar Remembrance Day of Victims of the Deportation event had received considerable support from both the Crimean and the Ukrainian authorities.

In fact, during these commemorative gatherings, alongside the Mejlis officials and the mufti (religious authority) of Crimea, a representative of the Ukrainian president, the head of the Crimean parliament, and the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kiev Patriarchate (UOC-KP) participated in the ceremonies.

In 2013, however, under Anatoli Mogilev, the chairman of the Council of Ministers in Crimea, the governmental attitude to the Day of Remembrance has changed drastically.

Mogilev was appointed by President Viktor Yanukovych in November, 2011.

Insisting that he was ill, he opted out of the May 18 gatherings in 2012, marking the first time a Crimean leader did not participate in this event.

Even before his appointment, Mogilev was well-known in Crimea for his anti-Tatar sentiments, his brutal order of police units (BERKUT) to attack peacefully protesting Crimean Tatar business owners in the Ai Petri hills in 2007 while he was a police chief, and his subsequent Krymskaya Pravda article (2008) in which he praised the Joseph Stalin–era deportation of the Crimean Tatars.

On February 25, 2013, under Mogilev’s leadership, the Crimean authorities announced that the May 18 event needed to be approved by the Crimean Council of Ministers.

Consequently, the Simferopol City Council declared that they were going to ban the annual May 18 gathering that has been organized by the Crimean Tatar Mejlis since the early 1990s.

This decision of the Crimean authorities was not received well by Mustafa Cemilev, the head of the Mejlis, who stated that Crimean Tatars will come to the Central Square in Simferopol as a large collective regardless of the ban, and if they are not allowed to hold their remembrance day, then they will block the roads, paralyze traffic, and take their protests to other regions of Crimea.

Meanwhile, the Crimean authorities affirmed that they accepted a proposal from the Milli Firqa (National Front), an opposition group to the Mejlis, which was now going to be in charge of the May 18 event.

There are irreconcilable differences between these two groups.

The Mejlis is the single body representing Crimean Tatars in Crimea since its establishment in 1991.

Milli Firqa, on the other hand, consists of a group of Crimean Tatars who had called on the Russian Federation and Tatarstan to “defend the indigenous and other numerically small ethnic communities of Crimea against the genocidal policies of Ukraine” right after the Russian-Georgian August 2008 war .

On March 12, 2013, in an interview with the Russian-based news site Noviy Region, Mogilev stated that he did not recognize the Mejlis, referred to it as an entity outside the legal framework of Ukraine, and wanted to omit the word “Mejlis” from any conversation.

Consequently, Cemilev suggested that Mogilev should read the past rulings of the Ukrainian state, reminding him that the Mejlis was approved by the president of Ukraine via a signed decree on May 18, 1999.

In April 2013, the organizing committee under Mogilev’s chairmanship declared that this year’s May 18 gathering was going to be held in two different locations in Simferopol: one in the Central Square organized by the Mejlis, and the other, organized by the members of the Milli Firqa hand-picked by Mogilev, in front of the Supreme Council of Crimea (Verhovna Rada—the regional legislature).

Rejecting the idea of this “divided” day of remembrance, the Mejlis still continued trying to construct a dialogue with the Crimean authorities and sent a letter to the chairperson of the Committee on Human Rights, National Minorities and Inter-Ethnic Relations, Andrei Shevchenko, and asked him to mediate between the Crimean authorities and the Mejlis.

In an effort to avoid unnecessary conflict in Crimea, Shevchenko asked President Yanukovych to intervene in the conflict between the Crimean government and the Crimean Tatar Mejlis; but Kiev remained unresponsive.

Aggravated by Kiev’s silence, while Cemilev was visiting the Czech Republic and then Germany in April 2013, he met with diaspora members living in Europe and informed them about the issues facing the May 18 event in Crimea.

Subsequently 38 members of European diaspora organizations gave Mustafa Cemilev their full support and declared that they were going to hold peaceful protests in front of Ukrainian embassies in Berlin, Brussels, Paris and The Hague.

Subsequently, they circulated online flyers about these protests with the addresses of those embassies in each country on social media (Facebook and Twitter); they also posted a video on the 1944 deportation on YouTube.

On May 4, the Mejlis held an emergency meeting with Crimean Tatar diaspora organizations from Europe, the United States and Turkey.

At the end of this meeting, 41 Crimean Tatar diaspora organizations in Turkey as well as others from Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, Lithuania and the United states jointly stated that, to show their solidarity with the Mejlis, they were going to execute the same protest action in front of Ukrainian embassies in their respective countries .

Meanwhile 12 billboards dedicated to the victims of the 1944 deportation were installed in Simferopol and in other locations.

On May 10, Milli Firqa declared that they were not going to hold a gathering in front of the Crimean parliament, and that they were not going to participate in the rally organized by the leaders of the Mejlis in Simferopol’s Central Square.

As the anniversary of the May 18 deportations approached, it is not clear how the events were going to unfold.

Nevertheless, the developments leading up to this year’s commemoration illustrate that, under President Yanukovych, Ukraine regressed in terms of inter-ethnic relations in Crimea.

Conflict prevention on the peninsula is important, especially now, five months prior to the Association Agreement with the European Union, including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) due to be signed in November 2013.

These recent political intrigues in Crimea undoubtedly underscore the countless issues that still need the attention of Ukrainian and international policymakers. 

Source: The Jamestown Foundation

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

In Ukraine, No Way To Avoid A Bumpy Ride

KIEV, Ukraine -- As the snow and ice began to melt in Ukraine this spring, exposing fresh cracks and potholes in the roads, hundreds of motorists gathered outside a government building carrying unusual burdens.


Cars drive over a pothole along a road near Kiev May 16, 2013.

They laid them down like funeral wreaths -- torn-off bumpers, crushed shock absorbers and ruptured tires -- demanding those inside the building, the state roads agency, carry out urgent road repairs and threatening to sue them for damages.

In many ways, the problems with Ukraine's roads encapsulate the country's political and economic dilemmas more than two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Most drivers blame the government for the fact that potholes and crumbling asphalt mean they either have to endure incessant jolts and regular damage by steering straight over them, or zig-zag around them, with perilous consequences.

In fact, the government does spend on the roads.

Like the heavily subsidized energy and utilities sectors, Ukraine's state-run road network drains billions of dollars a year.

But most is swallowed up by corruption, mis-spending and short-term repairs, leaving the authorities with the choice of raising taxes to cover the soaring costs or cracking down.

It is just one of several tough decisions the government needs to make to avoid a debt trap, but it is refusing to countenance for fear of losing popularity.

State debt rose to $67.4 billion this March from $60.5 billion a year earlier.

"All the government efficiency issues manifest themselves in the road sector," said Mark Magaletsky, senior banker in charge of Ukrainian infrastructure and energy at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Far bigger protests are held regularly in Ukraine, where President Viktor Yanukovich's opponents accuse him of encouraging the judiciary to jail rivals like ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko and failing to pursue his declared goal of European integration.

But the motorists' demonstration seemed to have triggered a flurry of activity. 

TAX

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov has repeatedly raised the issue at public government meetings and on his Facebook page, saying Ukraine's 46 million people simply do not pay enough taxes to cover the cost of road maintenance.

Road works are mostly financed by an excise tax on gasoline and other car fuels, with Ukrainians paying 1.57 hryvnias (about $0.2) in tax per liter of 95 Octane gasoline, less than a third of the level in Germany.

Andreas Schliessler, transport program team leader at the World Bank for Ukraine and its neighbors, agrees underfinancing is a concern, despite progress made by Kiev in the last decade.

"Government has substantially increased the fuel excise tax rates," Schliessler said in emailed comments.

However, it still needs to double road funding to match the level of developed economies, he said.

"Road conditions would certainly be better if Ukraine would spend the same proportion of GDP on roads," Schliessler said.

Under President Viktor Yanukovich, Ukraine raised the excise tax by about 50 percent between 2010 and 2012.

However, the rates have remained unchanged since early 2012 when his Party of the Regions started preparing for a parliamentary election.

GROWING DEBT, PUBLIC RAGE 

The government has compensated for the lack of funds by borrowing.

Last year, Ukravtodor spent a third of its funds, or about $400 million, on servicing debt.

This year, debt and interest payments are set to exceed $1 billion.

Raising excise rates further would be an obvious solution, said Magaletsky from the EBRD.

"Of course, this is a political issue and a tough one," he said.

Ukraine is in talks with the International Monetary Fund on a $15 billion loan to help it service foreign debts of around $9 billion falling due this year.

The Fund, though, is urging Kiev to raise heavily subsidized household gas and heating prices to cut its budget deficit, something the government is reluctant to do because the move is certain to be very unpopular with voters. 

The largest anti-government protests under Yanukovich were in late 2011, when the government introduced a new tax code, in effect raising taxes on millions of individual entrepreneurs.

"If the government decides to raise excise rates ... nothing is going to save them," said a blog by local journalist Andriy Chernikov, who organized public protests and set up a Facebook group called "I hate Ukravtodor", the state roads agency's name. 

Chernikov, like many other Ukrainians, believes the problem lies more in the way funds are spent.

The State Financial Inspection, a financial watchdog, said in February it had found multiple cases of abuse at Ukravtodor that cost the budget 225 million hryvnias ($28 million).

The figure may have been higher if Ukrainian laws governing purchases of goods and services by the state did not have so many loopholes - enough for the European Union to refuse to provide aid to its state budget for the last two years.

The loopholes, in particular, allow government bodies like Ukravtodor to bypass open tenders in certain cases and award lucrative contracts to companies of their choice.

Wary of political risks, the government has quickly shot down the idea of raising fuel taxes floated by Infrastructure Minister Volodymyr Kozak last month.

Energy Minister Eduard Stavytsky said he did not think raising excise rates would help road funding.

"People will just drive less and this will affect tax collection."

The prospect of raising taxes will only become more unpalatable with the approach of the next presidential election, due in early 2015, meaning the roads will continue to degrade.

The same is likely to happen to other areas of infrastructure such as energy and utilities where prices paid by households are heavily subsidized and removing subsidies is certain to lead to popular discontent.

"Unfortunately, imbalances are present in many sectors in Ukraine," the EBRD's Magaletsky said.

"Everything related to price increases for households goes through with great difficulty and is highly politicized."

Meanwhile, Ukrainians pay hidden "taxes" in the form of repair bills, insurance premiums and sometimes, writeoffs.

The price can be steep; Ukrainian insurer ASKA said a car carrier truck's upper deck collapsed in March due to violent shaking on a bumpy road, crushing all the vehicles beneath.

Source: Yahoo News

Interior Minister To Face Parliament Grilling

KIEV, Ukraine -- Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko will be grilled in Parliament on Tuesday amid the growing furor over a violent attack on reporters by a mob that may be linked to the ruling Regions Party.


Vitaliy Zakharchenko

Regions Party officials denied the link, but journalists uncovered footage showing many of the attackers first attending a rally sponsored by the party before unleashing their attack on reporters.

Zakharchenko will be questioned by lawmakers on why police refused to intervene and protect the reporters when the mob was approaching and threatening them.

The attack on Olha Snitsarchuk, a reporter with Channel 5 television, and Vlad Sodel, a photographer with Kommersant newspaper, took place just outside Kiev police headquarters.

The reporters were thrown to the ground and kicked by the mob, many of whom were later identified as martial arts fighters from Bila Tserkva in Kiev region.

“I was slightly shocked” to see that police officers refused to intervene, Snitsarchuk said.

Arseniy Yatseniuk, the leader of the opposition Batkivshchyna party, said the entire provocation was carried out under support and supervision from law enforcement agencies.

Yatseniuk, citing unidentified police sources, accused Andriy Kliuyev, the secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, of secretly directing the operation that was supposed to include a clash with opposition protesters.

“This special operation on beating up the reporters and the people was directed personally by Kliuyev,” Yatseniuk said.

“This person was appointed directly by President Viktor Yanukovych.” Yatseniuk said a team of top law enforcement officials was set up at the interior ministry to monitor the operation and make it more difficult for opposition groups to hold their protest march.

“That’s why we demand that tomorrow not only the Interior Minister comes with his report, but also that Yanukovych dismisses the entire line of officials responsible,” Yatseniuk said.

Olena Bondarenko, a member of the Regions Party, said her party will support creation of a commission that will investigate the attack.

She said also said police has detained and questioned a person who had been earlier identified as an attacker on the reporters, but refused to provide more details.

“I have the latest information that the person who attacked the reporters has been detained and questioned,” Bondarenko said in an interview with ICTV.

Source: Ukrainian Journal

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Ukraine International Airlines Urges Passengers On Flights To Brussels To Limit Themselves To Hand Luggage Because Of Strike By Swissport International's Freight Handlers

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine International Airlines (Kiev) has urged passengers on flights to Brussels (Belgium) to limit themselves to hand luggage because of a strike by the freight handling personnel of the Swissport International company (Switzerland), which services the Brussels international airport, the airline company announced in a statement.


"At the moment the baggage tracking service at the Brussels international airport is not working and the numbers of personnel and equipment serving flights are extremely limited. Freight handlers are blocking access to aircraft by placing checked-in baggage at the airport's charter terminal," the statement said.

The Ukrainian airline company believes that under these unavoidable circumstances, the only alternative is a reasonable decision by passengers on flights to/from the Belgian capital to limit their hand baggage as much as possible until the situation is resolved and the strike ends.

According to Ukraine International Airlines the strike at Swissport International, which is the largest international freight handling company, began on May 12 without prior notification of the relevant services at the Brussels airport and the airline companies operating flights to and from this destination.

As Ukrainian News earlier reported, Ukraine International Airlines is one of the largest airline companies in Ukraine.

It performs about 700 international and domestic flights per week.

Source: Aviation Pros

Ukraine Media Protest Police Inaction As 2 Journalists Are Beaten During Rally

KIEV, Ukraine -- Several dozen journalists rallied outside Ukraine’s Interior Ministry in Kiev on Monday, accusing police of standing by while two journalists covering an opposition rally were beaten.


Ukrainian journalists gather outside the Interior Ministry to protest police inaction and refusal to properly investigate and prosecute the beating of a reporter and a photographer during an opposition rally over the weekend in Kiev, Ukraine, Monday, May 20, 2013. A fight broke out Saturday between opposition and government supporters and a young beefy man in a tracksuit from the anti-opposition.

Olha Snitsarchuk, a journalist with Channel 5 TV, and her husband, Vladislav Sodel, a photographer with the Kommersant newspaper, were punched and kicked Saturday by a group of beefy young men as they attempted to record a clash between those men and opposition activists during a protest.

The protest Saturday was the biggest in several years.

After a clash broke out, Sodel and Snitsarchuk rushed to the scene and started taking photographs and filming with a cellphone, Sodel said Monday.

Several policemen at the rally ignored his pleas to intervene, stop the fight and protect the reporters, who were being threatened by the thugs, according to Sodel. 

Then he said two policemen watched as the reporters were spat at, doused with water, thrown on the ground and hit, leaving Snitsarchuk with bruises on her face.

The beating stopped after two riot police pushed the attackers away and an ambulance was called for Snitsarchuk.

However, the suspects were allowed to flee.

Sodel says when he approached several policemen and offered to show them a photograph of the main assailant, the policemen refused to look.

“They beat us because we were journalists. We were there and we were recording what was happening,” Sodel told The Associated Press.

The Interior Ministry opened a probe into the beatings after a public backlash, first on charges of deliberately inflicting of light bodily harm and later, following angry protests, on charges of hampering journalistic work.

During Monday’s rally, the activists held posters reading “Shame to passive police” and chanted “Minister! Minister!” demanding that Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko come out and answer their questions as well as oversee a thorough investigation into the beating.

Oleh Tatarov, deputy chief of the Interior Ministry’s main investigative department, said the main suspect has been identified, though not yet arrested.

He also said an investigation was under way into alleged inaction by police at the rally.

Source: The Washington Post

Monday, May 20, 2013

Google Shutters Quickoffice R&D Offices In Russia And Ukraine, Affecting More Than 100 People

SAINT PETERSBURG, Russia -- One thing Google apparently forgot to announce yesterday at its annual I/O developer conference is that it has cancelled its contract with Doctor Mobile, the developer of the mobile applications for the Quickoffice service.


Google acquired Quickoffice, which is headquartered in Dallas, Texas, in June last year for an undisclosed sum.

Now, less than a year later, Google is shutting down two of its offices, namely in Saint Petersburg (Russia) and Kharkiv (Ukraine), where more than 100 people are working.

The news about the unceremonious contract cancellation, which might result in all those people finding themselves without a job shortly, first emerged on Twitter and on the Russian blogging platform LiveJournal, with employees from both offices complaining about the move.

The news has since been reported (in Russian) by a number of publications.

Anna Zborovskaya, HR manager of Doctor Mobile’s office in Kharkiv, confirmed that Google decided to cancel its contract with the development firm after less than a year in an exchange with East-West Digital News.

“We are evaluating proposals to sell our company, and there are already negotiations underway,” Zborovskaya said, adding that it is possible that the Russian and Ukrainian offices will be sold separately.

It seems that the acquisition of Quickoffice only netted Google a product and a brand.

Doctor Mobile, which was actually called Quickoffice prior to the Google purchase, apparently remained independent after the deal, continuing its cooperation with Google on a contractual basis and under a different name.

According to Google’s explanations given to Doctor Mobile, the main reason for the shuttering of the Russian and Ukrainian offices was the online search and advertising juggernaut’s decision to transfer the entirely of Quickoffice’s R&D activities to the United States.

Source: The Next Web

Ukrainian Follows Other Oligarchs Into London’s Courts

LONDON, England -- Three of Ukraine’s richest men are engaged in a multibillion dollar legal battle in London.


Victor Pinchuk

It is the latest example of big-ticket litigation in the UK between oligarchs who amassed wealth after the Soviet Union’s collapse.

Victor Pinchuk, a former Ukrainian politician whose interests range from metals to media and who numbers Elton John and Tony Blair among his contacts, is suing two other magnates, Gennadiy Bogolyubov and Igor Kolomoisky, for alleged breach of contract and trust, according to court papers filed in London that became public this week.

Through a web of offshore companies, Mr Bogolyubov and Mr Kolomoisky jointly control a large share of Ukraine’s iron alloy, ore and petroleum businesses.

They co-own London-listed oil producer JKX Oil & Gas, one of Ukraine’s largest banks and industrial assets from Russia to Australia.

Mr Pinchuk, whose fortune Forbes estimated to be $3.8 billion, follows in a path trodden by other tycoons from the former Soviet Union who have gone to law in London, including Boris Berezovsky, the Russian fugitive who unsuccessfully sued his former protégé, Roman Abramovich, in 2011 before Berezovsky’s death this year.

The stakes are high: the value of KZhRK, the state iron-ore company privatised in 2004 which is at the centre of the lawsuit, and allegedly lost dividends, could exceed $2 billion.

Mr Pinchuk maintains that the defendants held in trust a controlling stake in KZhRK through an offshore company, for which he paid $143 million, and that they reneged on their agreement, which was mainly made orally, he maintains.

Ian Terry, solicitor for Mr Bogolyubov at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, said Mr Pinchuk’s claims were “misconceived” and “will be vigorously defended.”

If the case reaches trial it could underscore how a select few in Ukraine struck it super-rich acquiring lucrative industrial assets privatised during the 1990s and early 2000s.

Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man, is said by Mr Pinchuk to have been witness to oral agreements.

But in a case where documentary evidence is scant, much emphasis will be laid on the credibility of Mr Pinchuk.

The risk of a dispute centred on oral agreements was laid bare in the case of Berezovsky, who was labelled “an unimpressive, and inherently unreliable, witness” in Lady Justice Gloster’s withering judgment.

London cases brought by oligarchs have not had a high success rate: they have either been lost, as was the case for Berezovsky, or they settled, as happened in the litigation between aluminium magnate Oleg Deripaska and his former associate, Michael Cherney.

Mr Bogolyubov maintained that his residence in London’s Belgravia has been “used” by Mr Pinchuk as a basis to bring the case within the English courts’ jurisdiction.

However, he acknowledged the attractions of litigating in the UK – a fact not lost on British politicians who have heavily promoted England’s legal system.

“The London courts are considered the most objective and fair,” Mr Bogolyubov said.

Neither of the defendants has yet filed an official response to Mr Pinchuk’s claim. Mr Kolomoisky, who is based in Switzerland, did not respond to requests for comment.

Source: ft

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Cameras Show Missing US Doctor Entering Ukraine Park, Not Leaving

KIEV, Ukraine -- As the search for Dr. Jay Sloop entered its fourth day in Kiev, organizers explained why volunteers focused their efforts on a large urban park in the Ukrainian capital.

Dr. Jay Sloop

The retired obstetrician from Yakima, Washington was last seen Tuesday after he left for a morning walk in Kiev, where he had been helping set up a lifestyle center for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. 

Surveillance video from Tuesday shows the 77-year-old doctor entering Zamkova Hora, a heavily wooded park in the city center, but not leaving, according to a news release Friday from the church.

Meanwhile, searchers located and reviewed a private camera from the only other entrance to the park, concluding after reviewing hours of data that Sloop did not exit that way either, the news release said.

“While this information has helped to narrow the search, it does not make things easy,” Dr. Fred Hardinge, a colleague of Sloop’s, said in the release.

“The park is not flat with manicured lawns as one might assume. Rather, it is a flat-topped hill with very steep sides covered in some rocky outcroppings, trees, brush and bushes and some patches of long, untrimmed grass. A set of steel stairs leads 200-250 feet to the top.”

Jay Wintermeyer, a spokesman for the church at regional headquarters in Spokane, said about 80 church members and 30 students have assisted Kiev police in the search, along with members of the Sloop family.

He said a representative from Adventist Risk Management has been coordinating the search and that military police and Marines from the U.S. Embassy in Kiev have donated their time.

On Saturday, in addition to continuing search efforts at Zamkova Hora, local Adventist churches plan to canvass surrounding areas with photos of the doctor.

“We are doing everything we can to provide all possible help and assistance in the search for Dr. Sloop,” said Victor Alekseenko, Ukraine Adventist Union president. 

In a blog post, Greg Sloop disputed rumors that his father’s credit cards were used after his disappearance.

Greg Sloop said his father withdrew a “moderate” sum from an ATM shortly after he left for his walk, but camera footage of the transaction does not show him with anyone or in distress.

“No bank transactions have been attempted ... since he disappeared,” Sloop wrote.

In addition, Sloop said there have been no reports of a kidnapping, adding, “That doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened, but there certainly isn’t any evidence I’m aware of that he was.”

Source: Yakima Herald

Thousands Rally For Tymoshenko In Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Thousands of people have attended large rallies in Kiev in opposition to Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, calling for the release of jailed former PM Yulia Tymoshenko.


Some clashed with Yanukovych supporters.

Saturday's event was held after the European Court of Human Rights ruled in April that aspects of Tymoshenko's detention were unlawful.

She was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2011 for abuse of power in a case many have called politically motivated.

Television footage showed young men hurling stones and water bottles at opposition protesters before being pushed away by riot police.

Some protesters tried to drag the crew off a military vehicle that displayed messages mocking opposition leaders.

Police said they had intervened to end the fight, which is understood to have happened a block away from the main opposition rally.

"Several people have been injured," police announced in a statement.

World boxing champion Vitali Klitschko was one of those marching.

His UDAR (Punch) party has joined Tymoshenko's opposition group in parliament.

He said Ukraine's attempts to join the European Union would not come to fruition so long as Tymoshenko remained behind bars.

"How can this happen if we still have political prisoners?" Klitschko asked.

"This is why I say: freedom for Yulia."

There have been rallies across Ukraine organized by Batkivshchyna (Fatherland), UDAR, and the far-right party Svoboda, with demostrators accusing Yanukovych of failing to do more towards European integration, one of his declared goals.

The three parties said on Saturday they would work together to defeat Yanukovych in the presidential election in 2015, where he is expected to seek a second term.

Tymoshenko was a leader of the Orange Revolution protests of 2004, which derailed Yanukovych's first bid for the presidency.

The European Union has delayed signing a key trade agreement with Ukraine until Tymoshenko and several of her Cabinet allies are released.

The agreement would serve as the first step towards potential membership of the EU.

On Saturday, Yanukovych's Party of the Regions also held its own rally in Kiev, condemning what it has declared the rise of "neo-fascism" in Ukraine.

Source: Deutsche Welle

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Protest Rallies To Rock Kiev On Saturday

KIEV, Ukraine -- Thousands of protesters from across Ukraine led by three opposition parties are expected to descend on Kiev for a rally on Saturday and may clash with pro-government demonstrators.


Arseniy Yatseniuk

The rally is supposed to be a culmination of a two-month protest campaign that has been aimed at energizing voters throughout Ukraine.

It is intended to show the strength of the opposition ahead of presidential election in March 2015.

The opposition parties are expected to pledge to work closely in order to defeat President Viktor Yanukovych and his party, and may announce names of single candidates running for upcoming elections.

But the long-planned rally was suddenly changed on Thursday and may now include a march of thousands of protesters to the administration of Yanukovych and the government’s offices.

This may lead to a confrontation with thousands of demonstrators that are called by the ruling Regions Party for an “anti-fascist march” on the same day.

“They told us that Khreshchatyk street will be closed,” Arseniy Yatseniuk, the leader of the Batkivshchyna party, said.

“That’s why we filed the second application and we will go via the great circle – the Cabinet of Ministers, Parliament and the Presidential Administration, and then St. Sophia Square.”

The demonstrators, mostly government and government-funded school and hospital workers and students, are expected to be transported to the march from across Ukraine.

Yatseniuk said if the two crowds appear to face each other, the opposition will try to convince them to join the protest rally against the government.

“We really want to see these people,” Yatseniuk said.

“Those will be government workers, teachers and doctors that are forced to go for the march. Those are wonderful Ukrainians that I believe will join our march.”

Olena Bondarenko, a member of the ruling Regions Party, slammed the plan.

“This is a provocation intended to intersect with our rally and make some destructive and immoral actions,” Bondarenko said.

“We will make sure how to ensure the safety of participants in the anti-fascist march.”

Volodymyr Horkovenko, a Kiev resident who plans to join the protest rally, said he hopes the opposition groups will present a clear plan how to defeat Yanukovych and will nominate a single candidate at the rally.

“They promised to do this. Now, it’s time to deliver on the promise,” Horkovenko said.

“No one said this is going to be easy, but the people are waiting for this.”

Source: Ukrainian Journal

Europe And Ukraine: So Close Yet So Far

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine is only six months away from the possibility of signing a trade and cooperation pact with the European Union known as the Association Agreement.


The EU at a glance

How much progress has been made in preparations for this important milestone?

The European Union continues making the necessary steps to move forward with signing the trade and political cooperation agreement with Ukraine.

This week the European Commission supported the proposal, passing the matter on to the European Council for a final decision.

“The EU has underlined that it will only sign if Ukraine creates the necessary political circumstances,” The European Commission said in a statement issued on May 15th. 

The imprisonment of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko has brought much criticism from the West and the issue has posed an obstacle on the road to the signing.

The EU has repeatedly requested that Ukraine’s authorities address the cases of selective justice – otherwise known as political persecution – as well as other conditions to improve the country’s legislative and electoral regulations and bring it closer to European standards.

The Association Agreement with the EU would deepen political and economic ties between Ukraine and Europe, and would provide Ukraine better conditions for economic cooperation and better access to the EU Internal Market.

The signing, scheduled to take place at the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius, Lithuania in November, is far from a done deal.

Brussels wants Ukraine to address the issue of Tymoshenko’s seven-year prison sentence, levied upon her as part of a political vendetta by current president Victor Yanukovych.

While it’s unlikely that Yanukovych will set Tymoshenko free (according to the latest reports, he said he cannot order Tymoshenko’s release because she also faces trial on tax evasion and embezzlement charges and is under investigation in a murder case) the government makes an effort to show progress in other areas, such as modernizing legislations.

It almost seems as if Yanukovych hopes to impress the EU by his success in other areas of his ‘homework’ – as European parliament’s members commonly refer to the conditions Ukraine must meet – and would overlook the fact that the opposition leader remains in jail.

Ukraine has its supporters in Europe.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague, who, after meeting with Leonid Kozhara, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, said in a joint statement that “Ukraine belongs to the European family of States” and “the UK re-affirmed its support for Ukraine’s efforts to make the necessary reforms to allow signature of the mutually beneficial EU-Ukraine Association Agreement.”

Strong support but perhaps not enough.

“It is now up to the Ukrainian authorities to address the outstanding issues in order to enable the signing of the Agreement,” read the statement issued by the European Commission.

Will the EU accept Ukraine’s incomplete homework?

Will Ukraine’s government make the final important move?

This tug war has become risky.

After all, this is not just a power struggle, this will affect the future of Ukraine and 45.7 million Ukrainians.

Source: Forbes

Friday, May 17, 2013

Ukraine’s Energy Multi-Vectorism: Seeking Energy Independence With The West While Leasing Pipelines To Russia

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine’s energy sector mirrors the country’s pursuit of a multi-vector foreign policy.


Kiev believes it can extract benefits from East and West without giving up its national sovereignty.

Since 2010, President Viktor Yanukovych has taken concrete steps toward achieving energy security for Ukraine that his three predecessors merely talked about.

The strategy has focused on expanding domestic gas production (Ukraine was the Soviet Union’s leading gas producer until the early 1970s), launching shale gas production and importing liquefied natural gas (LNG).

Expanding gas production is on track and Chairman of Shell in Ukraine Graham Tiley and Prime Minister Nikolai Azarov have estimated that Ukraine will be self-sufficient in gas within 10–15 years.

Tiley told the Ukrainian edition of Forbes magazine (September 6, 2012) that a three-fold increase in gas production from the current 20 billion cubic meters (bcm) is entirely feasible.

The government’s Energy Strategy of Ukraine outlines a goal of domestically producing 47 bcm of gas by 2030.

Besides big Western gas companies, the Yanukovych administration is also inviting medium-sized North American companies, such as Toronto-Houston-based Cub Energy, which is successfully exploiting gas fields in eastern Ukraine and the Carpathian region.

Ukraine’s gas sector, run down since the 1970s when Soviet investment shifted to Western Siberia, desperately needs the technology and capital that large- (Shell) and medium-sized companies (Cub Energy) can bring to Ukraine. Ukraine is estimated to have the third largest shale gas deposits in Europe and production has been endorsed by local councils in Eastern Ukraine, which the Party of Regions control, while facing opposition in Western Ukraine from the nationalist Svoboda party.

Svoboda’s stance is at odds with its anti-Russian rhetoric as shale gas would assist in Ukraine’s energy independence from Moscow and has more to do with the banal use of shale to attack the authorities.

Political opposition purely on environmental grounds raises suspicions as Ukraine’s green movement has been dormant since the early 1990s.

LNG has run into more difficulties after an imposter, supposedly authorized to speak for the Spanish company Gas Natural, turned up to sign an agreement with Ukraine in late 2012.

Ukraine’s LNG imports are also reliant on securing supplies from countries such as Azerbaijan, which may not be forthcoming, and the willingness of Turkey to permit LNG to be transported through the already-crowded Bosphorus Straits.

Oil production in Ukraine is also set to expand after the Vanco contract was successfully defended in the Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce.

In October 2007, the Yanukovych government signed a production sharing agreement (PSA) with Vanco International (registered in the Bermuda Islands and a subsidiary of the Houston-based Vanco Energy Company), which assigned all rights and obligations on the PSA to Vanco Prykerchenska (registered in the British Virgin Islands).

In June 2008, the Yulia Tymoshenko government annulled the Vanco contract because it was registered offshore and included non-transparent owners.

Opening the market back up to Vanco is part of a policy of bringing in new players to Ukraine’s energy sector outside of the traditional Western Ukrainian–dominated gas lobby led by Dmytro Firtash and reversing two Tymoshenko government decisions in 2008–2009 against Vanco and RosUkrEnergo (RUE).

Firtash has replaced the natural gas intermediary RUE with Ostchem.

In addition to Vanco’s renewed oil activities, “The Family” — the political and business faction of Ukrainian elite connected to Yanukovych — is developing new interests in gas through GasUkraina-2009 and shale.

In 2010 Yanukovych gave Russia all of the concessions then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev demanded in his August 2009 open letter to President Viktor Yushchenko; but this failed to extract price concessions from the 2009 Russian-Ukrainian gas contract.

If then–Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had been more forthcoming, the Yanukovych administration would not have sought energy independence — just as former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma may not have sought support from the United States or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to overcome Russian pressure.

In 2012, Ukraine paid $432 per 1,000 cubic meters, or 40 percent more than what Italy pays and 20 percent more than Germany.

Consequently, Prime Minister Azarov complained that Russia is “strangling” Ukraine with high gas prices.

Moreover, Ukraine receives two times lower fees for transit of Russian gas than Slovakia and Hungary.

The ludicrous nature of Ukrainian-Russian relations is illustrated by the fact that Ukraine imports cheaper Russian gas from Germany and Slovakia rather than directly from Russia.

High gas prices, low economic growth, poor financial conditions and the upcoming 2015 presidential elections have led to a paradigm shift toward privatizing and leasing what were considered Ukraine’s “crown jewels” — its gas pipelines.

A February 2007 Tymoshenko-initiated law banning the lease, rent or sale of the pipelines was voted through by 430 (out of 450) deputies — including the Party of Regions when Yanukovych was Prime Minister.

On April 26, however, the government proposed draft legislation on the privatization of the state gas company Naftohaz Ukrainy that would break it into separate companies and privatize the pipelines.

First Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Arbuzov, affiliated with the “Family,” said he expected parliament to quickly vote on the law.

Moreover, the proposed law would create a Russian-Ukrainian gas consortium that precludes the European Union, which Russia has always opposed including.

The draft law has attracted opposition accusations of “treason” and will likely lead to a stormy parliament and greater tension in 2015.

Yanukovych receives three benefits from the lease of Ukraine’s gas pipelines.

Firstly, in exchange for leasing the pipelines, Russia would lower the price of gas sold to Ukraine to $250 per 1,000 cubic meters, saving the latter over $6 billion annually.

Secondly, it is preferable to an International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreement with strings attached, such as increasing household utility prices, which would be unpopular ahead of Yanukovych’s re-election bid in 2015.

Thirdly, Yanukovych would be able to demand Putin’s political support in 2015, arguing that the Ukrainian opposition promised to annul the 2010 Black Sea Fleet base agreement and 2013 gas pipeline lease if they returned to power.

Much like President Kuchma’s alignment with the US and NATO in the 1990s, Ukraine’s energy security push was sparked by aggressive Kremlin policies; but continuing financial problems and Yanukovych’s political considerations compelled the government to open Ukraine’s gas pipeline system to lease agreements with Russia.

Putin, on the other hand, undoubtedly views the lease of Ukraine’s pipelines as a stepping stone to their outright purchase, in line with Russia’s goal of undermining Ukrainian sovereignty.

The “multi-vectorism” in Kiev’s energy policy will, therefore, require a careful balancing act and formidable foresight to ensure that it does not eventually result in Ukraine’s subjugation to Russia’s sphere of influence.

Source: The Jamestown Foundation