Saturday, August 31, 2013

Ukraine Boxer And MP Vitali Klitschko Eyes Presidency

KIEV, Ukraine -- The world heavyweight boxing champion and Ukrainian opposition leader Vitali Klitschko has dropped a strong hint that he will stand for his country's presidency in 2015.

Vitali Klitschko: 'Ukrainian politics doesn't have rules'

The 42-year-old has campaigned against President Viktor Yanukovych and what he calls authoritarianism in Ukraine.

"I think about the possibility to take part in the presidential election," Klitschko - nickname Dr Ironfist - told the BBC.

He is an MP in a pro-Western party.

The party is called Udar, which translates as "Punch", but actually stands for Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reforms.

He said the final decision about his possible candidacy would be made in a few months' time, "after a discussion with civil society in Ukraine".

"My main goal is for Ukraine to be a European, modern country with European standards of life.

I will decide with people who have the same vision, the same dream, to go into politics and from the inside to change the situation," he said.

Could that be a campaign speech for a would-be president?

"No fight, no win," he replied with a smile.

It is easy to see why his political opponents might be worried.

Two metres tall (6ft 7in), he is a national celebrity who towers over almost everyone he meets, but still everyone wants to meet him.

Klitschko has had a long-standing interest in politics, previously running for mayor of Kiev.

He has spoken out against corruption in the country and the jailing of Yulia Tymoshenko.

The former Ukrainian prime minister was imprisoned for "abuse of office" - a charge that her supporters claim was politically motivated.

"We can't be a democratic country with political prisoners," he says.

Klitschko is also pushing to strengthen Ukraine's links with the EU.

"We see our future in the European family. We are European with our mentality, with our history," he says.

But Russian officials have warned against it.

Already this month Russia was accused of temporarily imposing extra customs checks on Ukrainian imports.

"Russia wants to prevent the signing of an agreement between Ukraine and the EU," states Klitschko.

He insists that Russian threats of economic sanctions are a breach of World Trade Organization rules.

"We have to build a good friendly relationship with all our neighbours."

And what of his boxing career?

Despite the ambitious move into politics, he insists it is not an end to his days in the ring.

"Sport stays in my heart," he says.

Currently recovering from a hand injury, Klitschko knows he'll need to be fully fit to take on his political opponents.

"Ukrainian politics doesn't have rules," he muses: "it's not like boxing".

Source: BBC News

Topless Berlin Feminists Protest Ukraine Raids

BERLIN, Germany -- Half-naked feminists took to the streets of Berlin on Thursday morning to protest outside the Ukrainian embassy.

Around half a dozen activists from group Femen were demonstrating against the Ukrainian government cracking down on their activities in the country.

Police raided Femen's headquarters in Kiev on Tuesday and claimed to have found a pistol and a hand grenade.

But Femen denied that there were weapons in their office and claimed police had planted them there.

It prompted the Berlin demonstrators to write slogans across their chests including, "My body is my weapon" and "My boobs, my bombs."

Zana Ramadani, 29, founder of Femen in Germany told newspaper the Bild:

"We planned everything quickly last night and got it organized."

Police looked on as the women walked towards the embassy in central Berlin waving placards and toy guns in a ten-minute protest.

The group staged similar stunts in Brussels and Paris at the same time.

Ukranian police arrested three members of Femen in July after they protested against a visit of Russia's president Vladimir Putin.

The group has targetted Putin since the prosecution of Russian female punk group Pussy Riot last year.

Source: Germany's The Local

Friday, August 30, 2013

Ukraine: MEPs Criticise Russian Pressure Ahead Of Possible EU Deal

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Foreign Affairs MEPs today criticised Russian trade restrictions imposed on Ukraine, ahead of a possible EU-Ukraine Association Agreement.

Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Elmar Brok.

In a separate debate on the future of Ukraine, opposition leaders Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Vitali Klitschko told MEPs that the country's future lies with Europe.

The debates were held in an extraordinary meeting of the EP Committee on Foreign Affairs on Wednesday, also discussing the current situation in Egypt and Syria.

The debates on Ukraine followed recent moves by Russia to block imports of Ukrainian confectionary.

While Russian authorities had cited quality and safety concerns, the measures have been widely viewed as politically motivated.

MEPs described the restrictions as an act of intimidation to discourage Ukraine from concluding the Association Agreement with the EU.

MEPs also said the actions were in breach of World Trade Organization rules and an attack on Ukraine's citizens.

MEPs who participated in the debate broadly voiced their support for signing the EU-Ukraine association agreement in the near future, but also warned that Ukraine's government must meet the EU's conditions, as defined at the Foreign Affairs Council of December 2012, which include addressing use of selective justice, necessary reform of the Prosecutor General's Office and freeing imprisoned former Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko.

Future of Ukraine 

"The future of Ukraine — whether it chooses to ally with Russia or with the EU in its trade and political relations — should be decided in Kiev, not Moscow or Brussels", said Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Elmar Brok (EPP, DE).

Ukrainian parliamentary opposition leaders Vitali Klitschko (UDAR) and Arseniy Yatsenyuk (Batkivschchyna) told MEPs that Ukraine's future lay with Europe.

Mr Klitschko said the opposition will press the government to take the necessary steps towards signing the agreement.

Mr Yatsenyuk said that an Association Agreement offered the EU and Ukraine the best tool to respond to the geopolitical challenge posed by Russia.

Next steps 

The EU-Ukraine Association agreement which includes also a "Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement", could be signed November this year when leaders of the EU and its eastern neighbours will meet at the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius.

Should the deals be signed, they would require a green light from the European Parliament before they can enter into force.

Source: European Parliament News

FEMEN Wiretapped? Feminist Group Leaves Kiev Office Claiming Surveillance By Ukraine Officials

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian feminist movement Femen said Wednesday it was moving out of its Kiev offices, alleging official wiretapping, a day after police said they discovered a cache of illegal weapons in a raid of its premises.

A Ukrainian policeman reads a protocol of searching at the premises of the Ukrainian feminist movement FEMEN in Kiev on August 27, 2013.

The group, known for its topless political protests, is facing a criminal probe for possession of illegal weapons after police searched its offices in central Kiev on Tuesday, but said its decision to move out was made earlier over alleged bugging. 

The group is moving "for security reasons, since it is impossible to work there now: everything is being listened to," the head of the Ukrainian branch of the movement, Anna Hutsol, told AFP.

Police said they confiscated a TT handgun and a grenade from the group's offices, while Hutsol insisted that the group did not have any weapons and suggested they could have been planted in the office while activists were away.

Kiev police spokesman Igor Mikhalko told AFP on Wednesday that the police had launched a criminal probe into illegal possession of weapons by the group, which could lead to a jail sentence of five years.

No one in the group has been charged but the investigation continues and the women could be called in for further questioning, Mikhalko said.

Hutsol told AFP that the group had already decided to move out and that the police raid had "strangely coincided" with its last day in its offices.

Police questioned activists until late Tuesday before releasing them, Hutsol said. 

Femen's female activists have become well-known in Ukraine and abroad for baring their breasts to protest discrimination against women and other rights violations.

The group has claimed that Hutsol and other activists were beaten by special services last month in an attempt by the government to pressure them to halt their protests, which target figures including Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The group will continue its activism in Ukraine, Hutsol vowed.

"We are not stopping our activities in Ukraine, we are just moving out of the office." 

"Now to plan and prepare our next protests we will gather in different places." 

Source: AFP

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Ukraine PM Tells Russia To Accept "Reality" Of EU Trade Deal

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's prime minister, seeking to ward off Russian pressure, urged Moscow on Wednesday to accept his country's drive towards a new trade relationship with the European Union as a "reality".

Ukraine's Prime Minister Mykola Azarov gestures during a session of the parliament in Kiev April 19, 2013.

Clearly alluding to Kremlin threats of possible retaliatory trade moves, Mykola Azarov said:

"The whole world is changing, the global system of economic relations. But to build a fence to protect yourself from changes using artificial barriers is simply pointless."

The former Soviet republic hopes to sign key agreements with the European Union in November, including one on free trade, which will mark a shift in its traditional close economic relationship with Russia, its biggest single trading partner.

The prospect of EU goods entering Ukraine, free of import duties, and then being re-exported to Russia and posing competition for Russian goods has caused alarm in the Kremlin and calls for Kiev to halt its drive towards Europe.

Firing a warning shot towards Kiev, Russia this month imposed laborious extra customs checks on Ukrainian imports over several days, causing delays at the border.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the Russia-led Customs Union, which also includes Belarus and Kazakhstan, might take "protective measures" to defend its markets.

A Kremlin aide told Ukraine on Tuesday it would lose its "strategic partner" status if it signs association agreements with the 28-member EU bloc at Vilnius, Lithuania, in November.

The pressure has led to talk of a trade war in Kiev and injected new tension into Moscow's relationship with Ukraine, which has pleaded unsuccessfully for a lower price for strategic supplies of Russian gas to bring relief to its economy.

It comes at a time when Ukraine faces record payments to service foreign debt, including to the International Monetary Fund, and when foreign currency reserves are below the safety threshold of three months worth of imports, analysts say.

Ukraine's economy relies on exports of steel, chemicals and grain.

More than 60 percent of its exports go to the former Soviet market, with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan the most important.

But Ukrainian big business sees greater prosperity in European markets and has resisted entreaties by Moscow to join the Customs Union - a move which would be incompatible with a free trade deal with Europe.


Azarov, who met Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow on Monday to try to calm Russian concerns over trade, told his cabinet that no matter what the circumstances were, Ukraine wanted to increase the volume and quality of trade with Russia in the future.

For that reason, he said, "drawing up new dividing lines is not in the interests of our peoples."

He said a 10-year grace period after the signing of the Association Agreement with the EU would give Ukraine and Russia the chance to adjust to the new reality, according to the principles of the World Trade Organisation of which both are members.

He said Ukraine had accepted the formation of the Customs Union on its borders and the plans to upgrade it from January 2015.

"In the same way, after signing the Association Agreement with the EU, Ukraine will create a free trade zone with the EU - this also has to be inevitably accepted as a reality," he said.

It is by no means a foregone conclusion that the association and free trade agreements will be signed in Vilnius in November.

Many EU member states are disappointed at the pace of democratic reform in Ukraine since President Viktor Yanukovich was elected in February 2010 and are pressing particularly for the release from jail of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, his fiercest political adversary.

Tymoshenko was jailed in late 2011 for seven years for abuse of office after what the EU says was a politically-motivated trial.

Speaking in Brussels on Tuesday after meeting Yanukovich's point man on European integration issues, EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele indicated the Tymoshenko question had been broached as well as Ukraine's progress on democratic reform to meet specific criteria laid down by the EU.

These relate to reforming the judiciary, ending politically-motivated prosecutions and improving electoral legislation.

"I have emphasized ... the need to ensure determined action and tangible progress on all the benchmarks set out," Fuele told journalists.

Source: Yahoo News

EU Gauging Ukraine's Resolve

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Meetings with Ukrainian leaders in Brussels were focused on assessing whether or not the government was committed to reforms, a European leader said.

Stefan Fule

European Commissioner for Neighborhood Policy Stefan Fule met in Brussels with Andriy Klyuyev, secretary of Ukraine's national security and defense council.

The Ukrainian government is keen on building a better relationship with the European Union.

EU representatives this year said the bloc was ready to sign an association agreement with Ukraine provided the government addresses a series of political concerns.

Fule said the meeting wasn't about dropping EU demands or modifying any of its conditions for association.

"It aimed specifically at taking stock of the actions taken by Ukraine to follow up on the commitments needed for a successful signature of the association agreement," he said in a statement Tuesday.

Fule said he welcomed progress made in ensuring Ukrainian prosecutors were working in line with European standards.

He also praised a decision by the Ukrainian Justice Ministry to hold a series of talks on electoral processes.

Ukrainian elections last year were viewed by the European Union is a step in the wrong direction.

Source: UPI

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

PM-Level Talks Fail To Fix Trade Issues

KIEV, Ukraine -- Russia and Ukraine failed to find compromises at trade talks on Monday, increasing the possibility of a massive trade war between the two countries later this year.

PM Mykola Azarov (L) with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev.

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov traveled to Moscow for the talks with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev to sort out problems after Moscow had blocked imports of Ukrainian goods last week.

Azarov has been seeking to persuade Medvedev not to impose any trade sanctions against Ukraine in the event that Kiev signs a free trade deal with the European Union in November.

“I find it pointless to continue the talks on this issue,” Igor Shuvalov, Russian deputy prime minister, said quoted by the Russian state-owned news agency RIA Novosti.

“The Ukrainians want to find a format that would be compatible… but it would be impossible to agree on a single customs tariff because they are absolutely bound” by the EU free trade deal.

The worries over the possible trade war between Ukraine and Russia rose after Russian President Vladimir Putin said recently that Russia will resort to sweeping restrictions against Ukrainian goods if Kiev signs a free trade and political association agreements with the European Union.

The protectionist rhetoric came only days after Russia lifted its restriction imposed against Ukrainian goods last week.

The restrictions, which amounted to a de-facto blockade of the Ukrainian goods at the border, were politically motivated to prevent Ukraine from signing the agreements with the EU in November, Ukrainian politicians said.

Putin’s comments echoed those recently made by his chief trade advisor, Sergei Glaziev, that Moscow will implement tougher trade sanctions if Ukraine makes “suicidal” move to sign the EU agreements.

Moscow has been persistently encouraging Kiev to drop the EU agreements and instead to join the Customs Union, a Russia-led trade bloc that also includes Kazakhstan and Belarus.

The European Union called it “unacceptable” for Russia to economically threaten Ukraine, linking the threat with a possible signature of the association agreement with the EU.

Source: Ukrainian Journal

Ukraine Police Claim Gun And Grenade Seized In FEMEN’s Offices

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian feminist group FEMEN have accused the police in Kiev of planting explosives and guns in the activists’ headquarters in an attempt to smear the group’s name and curb their activities.

A police spokesman claimed the raid and search of FEMEN’s offices was conducted after police received an anonymous call that dangerous materials might be stored at a given address.

In a video apparently filmed by police, agents display a hand grenade and a gun allegedly hidden under ceiling panels.

Officers also say they found leaflets with portraits of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kiril pictured in snipers’ cross-hairs.

FEMEN leaders and activists were questioned by police, and the movement’s offices were sealed.

Formal charges of illegal possession of arms and explosives were brought forward though no-one has been detained as yet.

Activists say they expect charges of plotting to kill Putin and Patriarch Kiril to be brought forward.

Both were in Kiev last month to commemorate the 1025th anniversary of the Baptism of Kievan Rus (introduction of Christianity).

FEMEN deny all the charges and claim the evidence was planted by police in an apparent provocation.

Source: euronews

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Russia: Ukraine Can't Be In Both EU, Customs Union

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov says Ukraine cannot be in the European Union and the Russian-led Customs Union at the same time.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (L) meets with his Ukrainian counterpart, Mykola Azarov, in Gorki on August 26.

Shuvalov made the remark after talks between Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov in Moscow.

Earlier, Medvedev urged Azarov to discuss "the legal, organizational, and economic consequences" if Kiev signs a free-trade agreement with the European Union. 

Moscow wants Kiev to abandon a possible association agreement with the EU and is pushing it to join the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan instead. 

Russian customs officials placed extra checks on Ukrainian imports for several days this month, causing massive backups at the border.

It was seen as Moscow pressuring Kiev over the Customs Union issue.

Ukraine hopes to sign a much-delayed free-trade and political association agreement with the European Union at a summit in Vilnius in November.

Source: Radio Free Europe

Ukraine And Japan To Monitor Chernobyl, Fukushima From Space

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine and Japan on Monday agreed to launch a joint satellite project to track the state of crippled Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear plants, sites of the world's greatest nuclear disasters.

A view of a radioactive sign near a shelter and containment area at Chernobyl's old nuclear power plant.

"We have agreed on cooperation in the space sector to monitor the regions surrounding Chernobyl and Fukushima," Japan's Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters after talks with his Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kozhara.

The project aims to put into orbit by 2014 eight miniature satellites to gather information on the effects of radioactive fallout on the areas adjacent to the plants. 

According to the Japanese foreign ministry, it will be a joint project of Tokyo University and the Ukrainian state space agency with launches of Japanese-developed satellites by Ukrainian carrier rockets.

In March 2011, an earthquake and tsunami caused meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear plant in northeast Japan.

Cleanup after the disaster is expected to take around four decades.

While no one is officially recorded as having died as a direct result of the meltdown at the reactors, large areas around the plant had to be evacuated, with tens of thousands of people still unable to return.

Satellites in the joint programme are expected to weigh about 60 kilogrammes (132 pounds) and span 50 centimetres (20 inches) in diametre, the Japanese delegation confirmed Monday.

They will take satellite images every two hours from an altitude of about 600 kilometres (372 miles).

They will also receive signals from sensors installed on the ground to collect information from areas where radiation levels exceed the norm.

On Sunday Kishida visited Chernobyl, the site of the 1986 tragedy, as part of his trip to Ukraine to compare notes on relief efforts following Japan's own disaster at Fukushima.

"Yesterday at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant I was impressed with the fact that even after 27 years since the accident Ukraine still continues to struggle with the consequences of the disaster," Japan's minister told journalists, as translated into Ukrainian.

The explosion at reactor number four of the Chernobyl power plant in the early hours of April 26, 1986 sent radioactive fallout into the atmosphere that spread from the Soviet Union across Europe.

According to official Ukrainian figures, more than 25,000 of the cleanup workers from then-Soviet Ukraine, Russia and Belarus have died since the disaster.

The two catastrophes are the world's only nuclear disasters to have been categorised as level seven on the United Nations' seven-point International Nuclear Event Scale. 

Source: AFP

Monday, August 26, 2013

Ukraine Marks 22nd Anniversary Of Independence

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine has marked 22nd anniversary of its independence. Back in 1991, parliament declared sovereignty, following a failed putsch in Moscow.

Now, there are mixed reactions and feelings about the event.

Some are happy, others say they would dreamed on a better situation.

Dressed up in a Ukrainian-style embroidered shirts, jubilant citizens have come out to celebrate.

According to polls, 61 percent of respondents would have supported Ukraine’s independence, while 28 percent would not, if they had had a choice today.

The figure is much less than 90 percent approval of the independence during the 1991 referendum.

Most of the citizens are satisfied with the life they have, but not with the politicians they’ve chosen.

Ukrainians say their trust has been seriously eroded and the country's instability has brought deep disappointment to society.

Traditionally in Ukraine, the date is overshadowed by protests.

This year’s demonstration was called in to defend what’s seen as the country’s political independence which is believed to be affected by economic dependence. 

Many point out to the country’s poor economic performance during the last 22 years.

However they mention that Ukraine has got ahead much more than the rest of post-Soviet countries.

Flying the flags of the state and the one of the European Union, protesters have called on the authorities to stick on the European aspirations, as they believe it is a matter of the existence of Ukraine and may guarantee the country's independence. 

Source: Press TV

Ukraine Leader Ignores Putin Warning On EU Path

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich on Saturday re-affirmed his commitment to signing key agreements with the European Union, including on trade, despite a threat by Russia's Vladimir Putin of possible retaliatory measures.

Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovich addresses delegates during the annual meeting of World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 24, 2013.

Russia, the ex-Soviet republic's biggest trading partner, last week signaled growing alarm at Kiev's policy of European integration by conducting laborious extra customs checks on imports from Ukraine, causing delays at the border.

Though Russia ended the customs checks after a few days, Putin last Thursday added to fears in Kiev of a possible trade war by saying that a free trade deal between Ukraine and the EU might “squeeze out” Russian goods.

He warned that members of the Eurasian Customs Union linking Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan might have to take “protective measures” to defend their markets.

In an Independence Day speech on Saturday, Yanukovich, once regarded as being more Russia-friendly than his nationalist predecessor Viktor Yushchenko, pointedly ignored Putin's comments.

While pledging to deepen relations with Russia and other customs union members, he indicated that Kiev was committed to signing agreements on political association and free trade with the EU at a summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, in November.

“For Ukraine, association with the European Union must become an important stimulus for forming a modern European state,” he declared.

“At the same time, we must preserve and continue deepening our relations [and] processes of integration with Russia, countries of the Eurasian community, other world leaders and new centers of economic development,” he said.

Ukraine's economy relies heavily on exports of steel, coal, fuel and petroleum products, chemicals and grain.

More than 60 percent of its exports go to other former Soviet republics, with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan the most important.

Ukrainian commentators see last week's customs checks as a warning shot by Moscow providing a foretaste of what can be expected if Ukraine opts for turning towards Europe and away from its former Soviet ally.

Yanukovich, backed by powerful and wealthy business figures who see greater prosperity in European markets, has resisted entreaties by Moscow to join the Customs Union - a move which would be incompatible with a free trade agreement with the EU.

But with Kiev still hopeful of securing a lower price for deliveries of costly Russian gas for the Ukrainian economy, Yanukovich needs to maintain good relations with Moscow.

He is sending his prime minister, Mykola Azarov, there on Monday to try to calm Russia's fears over Ukraine's moves towards Europe.

In an Independence Day message of congratulations to Yanukovich, Putin on Saturday avoided any discord, expressing Russia's readiness to increase cooperation with Ukraine across the board.

It is far from a foregone conclusion that a political association agreement, including a free trade deal, will be signed in Vilnius in November even though Yanukovich wants it.

Many EU member states are disappointed at the pace of democratic reform in Ukraine since Yanukovich was elected in February 2010 and are pressing particularly for the release from jail of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, his fiercest political adversary.

Tymoshenko was jailed in late 2011 for seven years for abuse of office after what the EU says was a politically-motivated trial.

Source: Voice of America

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Ukrainian Activists Draw Attention To Little-Known WWII Tragedy

KIEV, Ukraine -- In 1941, as Nazi German troops swept through Soviet-era Ukraine, Josef Stalin's secret police blew up a hydroelectric dam in the southern city of Zaporizhzhya to slow the Nazi advance.

The dam in the southern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhya is shown after being blown up by Stalin's secret police in 1941. From 20,000 to 100,000 people died in the ensuing flood.

The explosion flooded villages along the banks of the Dnieper River, killing thousands of civilians.

As Europe marks its Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism on August 23, a handful of Zaporizhzhya residents are battling for the recognition of the little-known wartime tragedy.

The day, which is also known as Black Ribbon Day outside Europe, coincides with the anniversary of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of nonaggression between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

Ukraine suffered heavy losses both during World War II and under Stalin.

The Zaporizhzhya events took place in August 1941.

As Nazi troops approached the city, Moscow sent in agents from the NKVD, the predecessor of the KGB, to blow up the city's DniproHES hydroelectric dam.

The team successfully carried out its secret mission -- which historians say was ordered by Stalin himself -- tearing a hole in the dam and temporarily cutting off part of the city from the invaders.

But the explosion also flooded villages and settlements along the Dnieper River.

The tidal surge killed thousands of unsuspecting civilians, as well as Red Army officers who were crossing over the river.

Since no official death toll was released at the time, the estimated number of victims varies widely.

Most historians put it at between 20,000 and 100,000, based on the number of people then living in the flooded areas.

People Were Screaming' Survivor Oleksiy Dotsenko says the Dnieper turned red that day.

His account, recorded four years ago by the television channel 1+1, is one of the last remaining testimonies of the tragedy.

"People were screaming for help. Cows were mooing, pigs were squealing. People were climbing on trees," he recalled.

Many Zaporizhzhya residents, however, are still unaware of the disaster.

Local historians and rights activists accuse city authorities of perpetuating Soviet-era efforts to cover up the truth by refusing to honor the victims.

Officials acknowledge that innocent civilians died but defend the dam's destruction as a necessary measure that helped save countless lives.

"There was no one at the time to defend Zaporizhzhya," says Oleksiy Baburin, the head of the Ukrainian Communist Party's regional branch.

"We had very few soldiers. There were almost no NKVD troops or military regiments who could have stopped the Germans. This is why blowing up DniproHES allowed for the evacuation to continue."

But a number of historians reject such claims, insisting that the operation was poorly timed and that Nazi troops had no immediate plans to seize the city.

No Official Recognition 

Historian Vladyslav Moroko says the men in charge of the mission, Boris Epov and Aleksandr Petrovsky, rushed the dam's explosion due to their fear of Stalin.

"In reality, Epov and his subordinates were concerned less by the possible German invasion of Zaporizhzhya than by the fact that they may not be able to carry out Stalin's order," Moroko says.

"They were afraid that DniproHES would be captured and that they would not be able to carry out Stalin's order."

A monument close to the hydroelectric station, which is still in use, pays tribute to the troops that defended the facility during World War II.

A group of local residents this year put up a commemorative wooden cross in Zaporizhzhya on August 18, the anniversary of the DniproHES tragedy.

But there is still no official monument or plaque in the city to honor its victims. 

Moroko and others have written an open letter urging city authorities to right this wrong.

The letter went unanswered.

"This petition was public. Civil organizations and citizens responded to it and expressed their support," Moroko says.

"But the government is acting like it never happened."

Source: Radio Free Europe

Azarov To Head To Moscow For Trade Talks

KIEV, Ukraine -- Prime Minister Mykola Azarov will travel to Moscow on Monday for talks with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev as worries remain that the trade dispute between the two countries may escalate again.

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov (R) with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev.

The worries rose after Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Russia will resort to sweeping restrictions against Ukrainian goods if Kiev signs a free trade and political association agreements with the European Union.

Putin’s comments show recent improvements in trade clearance at the Russian-Ukrainian border are fragile and have potential to quickly escalate into a massive trade war.

"If our neighbors move to significantly liberalize a customs regime with the EU then the Ukrainian market will indeed be flooded by goods whose quality and price are rather good," Putin said, according to Interfax.

"This will prompt them to push Ukrainian-made goods out of the Ukrainian market," Putin said.

“Then the countries of the Customs Union will have to think about protective measures, such a possibility exists."

The protectionist rhetoric comes only two days after Russia has lifted its restriction imposed against Ukrainian goods last week.

The restrictions, which amounted to a de-facto blockade of the Ukrainian goods at the border, were politically motivated to prevent Ukraine from signing the agreements with the EU in November, Ukrainian politicians said.

Putin’s comments echo those made by his chief trade advisor, Sergei Glaziev, on Sunday that Moscow will implement tougher trade sanctions if Ukraine makes “suicidal” move to sign the EU agreements.

Moscow has been persistently encouraging Kiev to drop the EU agreements and instead to join the Customs Union, a Russia-led trade bloc that also includes Kazakhstan and Belarus.

Azarov and Medvedev, following a phone call earlier on Thursday, agreed to meet in Moscow to discuss the recent problems in trade and ways of avoiding them, Natalia Timakova, a spokeswoman for Medvedev, told Interfax.

The European Commission spokesman John Clancy, in a statement on Tuesday, said it was “unacceptable” for Russia to economically threaten Ukraine, linking the threat with a possible signature of the association agreement with the EU.

Source: Ukrainian Journal

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Trading Insults

KIEV, Ukraine -- Nobody could accuse Sergei Glazyev of ambiguity. New Russian trade restrictions with Ukraine were a warning against the “suicidal” step of signing an association agreement with the European Union, said President Vladimir Putin’s chief economic adviser.

Souvenirs of a common history

And if it went ahead, the rules could become even tighter.

For its part, the EU termed Russia’s stance “unacceptable”.

Russia is making increasing efforts to deter the biggest country in its former empire from looking west and to prod it into joining the rival, Kremlin-led Eurasian Customs Union instead.

As an EU summit in Vilnius in November nears, the means include soft power (talk of a shared Orthodox heritage), carrots (cheap gas and access to markets) and sticks (trade sanctions).

Russia wielded the stick in July with a ban on confectionery produced by Roshen, a big Ukrainian company, allegedly because it contained carcinogens.

This was odd: other customers had not complained.

On August 14th Ukraine’s employers’ federation, whose members account for 70% of GDP, said stricter Russian customs procedures were paralysing trade.

Russia accounts for a quarter of Ukraine’s exports; the restrictions could cost up to $2.5 billion in the second half of the year, the group said.

Roshen said it will lay off 400 workers.

Zaporizhstal, a steelmaker, has pre-emptively halted exports to Russia.

Its parent company, Metinvest, owned by Ukraine’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov, has complained about delays and selective searches that damage goods.

But the pressure seems to have been applied unequally.

Only some businesses reported blockades.

Others said goods flowed unhindered.

The leading light in the employers’ federation is Dmitry Firtash, an influential tycoon who once ran a lucrative gas intermediary called RosUkrEnergo (now defunct), and whose business interests are closely linked to the Russian market.

Putting pressure on him, some think, could be a good way of reaching Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych.

The losses from the trade squeeze may be less than claimed.

Dragon Capital, an investment bank in Kiev, put the figure close to $500 million.

Ukrainian officials now say Russia has backed down, though nobody in Moscow has confirmed this.

At any rate, Ukraine is in no position to wage a trade war.

Record payments to redeem foreign debt are due this year.

The economy is in recession and foreign-currency reserves have tumbled below the safety threshold of three months’ worth of imports.

Russia can also apply pressure on other fronts, such as gas.

Ukraine is approaching winter still 3.5 billion cubic metres (bcm) short of the paltry 12.5bcm of reserves it plans to have for the start of the “heating season” on October 1st.

Last year it had 20bcm.

Naftogaz, the state gas company, is drowning in debt and burns a growing hole in the state budget each month.

In previous years, Russia’s attempts to apply political pressure by cutting gas deliveries have hit Ukraine — and EU countries that import Russian gas through it.

Wojciech Kononczuk of OSW, a Warsaw think-tank, estimates that Ukraine should have at least 5 to 6bcm more by now.

The Kremlin will watch and wait as its negotiating position strengthens, and Ukraine’s weakens, he reckons.

A gas war is unlikely: there will be a deal, the only question being whether, for Ukraine, it will be “very bad or just bad”.

Another tussle with Moscow concerns the airwaves.

Mr Firtash owns Ukraine’s biggest television channel Inter, while his oligarch colleagues control the bulk of the media market.

Taras Berezovets, a political consultant, says the Kremlin has lost the “information war” against Europe, and now needs the oligarchs’ assets to catch up.

“This is not just a trade war, it’s a war over the minds of the Ukrainian people.”

Mr Yanukovych, who faces re-election in early 2015, is caught between these constraints.

A deal with the EU would be popular, but an economic crisis or conflict with the oligarchs would dash his chances.

In the long run Russian sanctions could benefit Ukraine, just as they did when imposed on Georgia in 2008.

Its producers were forced to raise standards and compete globally.

But Mr Yanukovych and Ukraine may not have that long.

Source: The Economist

Meet The Women Putting Ukraine On the Fashion Map

KIEV, Ukraine -- It is 2006 in Ukraine: I’m 17, smoking a cigarette with my friend who is wearing a shirt with a suspicious-looking “Channel” logo.

Today marks the 22nd year of Ukrainian Independence. Coincidently, the country has been making quite a name for itself in the fashion industry for its features on and own Fashion Week. We spoke with a stylish Slavic trinity to see why this post-Soviet country should be celebrated as the next big fashion destination.

I’m crushing on the guy next to me in knock-off Adidas track pants and Matrix-style sunglasses.

A woman briskly walks by wearing shiny white leather boots with sky-high heels, zebra-printed leggings, and a cheetah-pattern coat with silver embellishments.

It seems like this country has an obsession with brand names and shiny objects: even our thin cigarette packs read “Glamour”.

Fast forward six years later to October 2012, when I found myself in a very different Ukraine than the one I experienced while chain-smoking next to a provincial bazaar:

I was at Mercedes-Benz Kiev Fashion Days, photographing street style for Women’s Wear Daily.

Surveying the attendees dressed in a mix of Ukrainian and Western designers, it seemed as if the influence of pallid Soviet Union uniforms and the animal print combinations from the influx of Western culture in the early ’90s had faded.

Out with the glitz, it was apparent that a new generation was conquering the fashion scene and making Kiev, Ukraine a fashion capital in Eastern Europe.

I snapped away.

The “little country that could” is now a force to be reckoned with in the fashion industry.

Over the years, the country has been loosely translated to mean “on the edge of something big [Russia]” and has been overshadowed by Russian culture.

Yet, Ukraine has been successfully cultivating its own identity in the fashion world since the late 2000s.

The country’s transition into a new generation of fashion started when Kiev-based journalist Daria Shapovalova launched a television show in 2007 called “Fashion Week with Daria Shapovalova”, in which she interviewed everyone from Anna Dello Russo to Christopher Kane, airing in both Russia and Ukraine.

“The first big step for fashion in Ukraine was probably when my TV program was released, because we were the first to say that fashion was not a ‘social life’”, says Shapovalova.

“People thought that a ‘social life’ was fashion, but it is only part of the fashion world.”

In 2010, she launched Kiev Fashion Days, which became Mercedes-Benz Kiev Fashion Days in 2011.

“We decided to launch Kiev Fashion Days because a lot of young designers approached us, wanting an international platform.”

Her site,, launched in 2009, is one of the sole providers of fashion news in Ukraine.

It features interviews with local designers and personalities as well as foreign journalists:

In April, it ran Shapovalova’s interview with the New York Times‘ Cathy Horyn. 

Shapovalova has also created unique programs to support Ukrainian designers, such as Fashion Scout Kiev and Design It.

Fashion Scout was originally founded in London and Paris to give designers international exposure.

“We are representing the whole Eastern European region with Fashion Scout,” says Shapovalova.

“It is open to all of the designers from all Eastern European countries.”

Daria and her team are also responsible for fostering partnerships with Vogue Italia’s contest DESIGN IT, a sub-program of Fashion Scout Kiev.

Designs and lookbooks by Ukrainian designers are judged by a senior Vogue Italia editor.

International programs like Fashion Scout have helped to launch Ukrainian designers, including Odessa-native designer Anna October, onto the international stage.

When I viewed October’s collection in October 2012 in a pop-up showroom in Kiev, she told me that she was sleeping on her couch in her production studio back in Odessa.

A year later, she is showing her collections in showrooms in London thanks to Mercedes-Benz Kiev Fashion Days and Fashion Scout, and says she has received a “big response.”

Her collections are now sold in concept stores and have been featured on the sites of British and Italian Vogue.

In May, the country received its own Vogue, an important recognition from the international fashion community.

From a cultural angle, Gareth Pugh and Prabal Gurung both cited the Ukrainian Amazonian community, Asgarda, as an influence in their Fall 2013 collections.

A few months later, Shapovalova took the opportunity to travel to Lviv with Masha Tsukanova, the Editor-in-Chief of Vogue Ukraine, to interview the leader of Asgarda.

She later published her experience on’s newly launched “Fashion Map.”

“I decided to work with an international audience and speak in English to be more recognized in the fashion world because when you are doing something for only Ukrainian television, it is too small,” Shapovalova explained.

Additionally, Shapovalova is a video director for NOWFASHION, covering fashion weeks and helming their Fashion Insiders series, in which she interviews everyone from a buyer from LuisaviaRoma to the calligrapher of a Balmain invitation.

Even the modeling world in Ukraine has transformed.

Still famous for exporting leggy girls to the US and European runways, the Ukrainian modeling industry is becoming smarter and more refined.

Alla Kostromicheva, who has walked for Alexander McQueen and has shot campaigns with Steven Meisel, is also the founder of the Kiev-based modeling agency, K Models.

“After a year, we have about 30 models. We really wanted to do something different than what market has already. I teach girls everything that I have learned — unfortunately I didn’t have anyone to help me understand how the business worked,” says Alla.

“In this business there are a lot of hard moments, so I want them to be ready to understand what they need to go through to make it in the business.”

Aside from her modeling agency, Alla is the face of Mercedes-Benz Kiev Fashion Days.

Ukraine has come a long way since 2006, and even since 2012.

I still remember helping Anna October shovel her collection into a taxi two hours before her show.

She was alone and without a team, peeking out from under her dresses in the back seat, telling the driver to hurry up so she could prep her models.

It took a little while, but we finally got there.

Ukraine may still mean “on the edge of something big”, except now it’s not Russia –
it’s fashion.

Source: Fashionista

Friday, August 23, 2013

Ukraine Plans To Open Slovakian Gas Import Route In September

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine plans in September to sign an agreement that would open imports of European natural gas via Slovakia, the Energy and Coal Industry Minister said Wednesday.

The agreement with Slovakia was originally expected to be signed June 20 and then July 4, but had been postponed both times for undisclosed reasons.

"I am confident that in September we will sign the agreement with our partners in Slovakia and in October with Romania," Stavytskiy said at a press conference. 

Ukraine, which plans to reduce its reliance on Russia, has already been importing a small amount of European gas via Poland and Hungary, but opening the Slovakian route would be a game-changer because of its massive capacity.

The Slovakian route would be able to move up to 20 billion cu m/year of gas toward Ukraine, according to Stavytskiy.

Ukraine successfully tested the Slovakian route between May 15 and June 15, but the signing of the agreement had been postponed twice.

Ukraine was seeking assistance from the European Union to sign the agreement.

No official reason was given for postponing the agreement with Slovakia, but Stavytskiy said in early July that Russia's Gazprom may have played a role.

Ukraine, once the largest foreign market for Gazprom, has been rapidly reducing imports of Russian gas over the past 12 months due to high gas prices.

Ukraine's imports of gas from Russia dropped 34% year-on-year to 12.5 Bcm in January-July, according to UkrTransGaz, the state-owned gas shipping monopoly. 

Ukraine began imports of gas from Europe in November 2012 after signing a contract with RWE of Germany in May 2012 that calls for imports of 5 Bcm/year.

But the contract can be expanded to 10 Bcm/year, Ukrainian officials said.

Source: Platts

Geoffrey Pyatt Appointed U.S. Ambassador To Ukraine

WASHINGTON, DC -- Geoffrey Pyatt of La Jolla, California was sworn in as U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine on July 30 at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C.

U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, speaks at his swearing-in ceremony, while his daughter, Claire, wife, Mary, and son, William, listen.

His Grace Bishop Daniel of Ukraine participated in the ceremony, and the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns administered the oath of office.

A Ukrainian Orthodox Church press release stated that there were hundreds of people in attendance, including foreign ambassadors to the United States and various U.S. Ambassadors to foreign nations.

In his acceptance speech, native La Jollan Pyatt said, “I look forward to this opportunity to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine and believe this is a critical moment for Ukraine in its long struggle to be a strong independent country in charge of it’s own destiny,” according to the press release.

The appointment comes after more than 20 years in the U.S. State Department, during which time Pyatt served in countries around the world.

According to the State Department, Pyatt was the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the South and Central Asia Affairs Bureau from May 2010 until his recent appointment.

Prior to that, he served in Vienna, New Delhi, Hong Kong, Pakistan and Honduras, in various posts within the Foreign Service.

Despite unfamiliarity with the Ukrainian territory, Pyatt said he is familiar with its culture.

He reports having many Ukrainian friends and working for Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, whose grandmother is from Pereyaslav-Khmelnitskyi in Ukraine.

He said in an interview posted on the U.S. Embassy’s website: “Before I came to Ukraine, I sat down to a wonderful lunch with Ukraine’s Ambassador to the United States, Oleksandr Motsyk.

We enjoyed varenyky (dumplings), kulesha (spoon bread) and Ukrainian-style North American trout, as he told me about your own trout here in the Carpathians.”

Pyatt said he plans to use social media as a way to sustain an open relationship between the United States and Ukraine.

He posted an introductory video on YouTube explaining his goals, which include a video blog and Facebook page.

In the video, he said that he’s inspired by the U.S. Embassy’s Facebook page, which featured famous Americans with familial connections to Ukraine, and he would move in a similar direction.

Ambassador Pyatt departed for Ukraine and assumed his new duties on Aug. 3, where he will live for the next three years.

Source: La Jolla Light

Thursday, August 22, 2013

How Powerful Is The Pro-Russian Lobby In Ukraine?

KIEV, Ukraine -- New initiatives supporting Russian economic and political objectives keep emerging in Ukraine as the date of the expected signing of the Association Agreement with the European Union at the November 28–29 EU Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius approaches.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov

On August 9, the leader of the Ukrainian Communist Party, Parliamentarian Petro Symonenko, told Golos Rossiyi that the Communists would begin a campaign to collect four million signatures (a three million threshold is required) for a referendum for Ukraine to integrate into the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC) and the Customs Union, and not into the European Union.

Russian leaders and think tanks close to the Kremlin support these public efforts, which appear to be lobbying to restrain Ukraine from its Western integration path.

The Moscow-based Gorchakov Fund for the Support of Public Diplomacy, which describes itself as a “public-private partnership” to promote Russian foreign policy objectives, serves as one of the key sponsors of this activity.

In June–July 2013, the Gorchakov Fund supported the Eurasian Youth Camp Forum in the Crimea, a geopolitics conference in Odessa, and several other policy events in Russia and Belarus, where Ukrainian representatives participated.

These events clearly promote the Russian policy of Ukraine’s Eurasian integration, which also means Kiev’s actual subordination to Moscow’s power in relations with the EU.

Some of the major pro-Russian events in Ukraine were held in Kiev: Russian President Vladimir Putin, on his July 27 visit to Ukraine to celebrate the Baptism of Kievan Rus, attended a roundtable sponsored by his Ukrainian supporter Viktor Medvedchuk’s “The Ukrainian Choice” organization.

But Russia also aims to arouse public opposition to Ukraine’s association with the EU in predominantly Russian-speaking regions of eastern and southern Ukraine, including Crimea.

These regions, in fact, constitute Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s electoral base.

A controversial feature of Putin’s Ukrainian policy is the use of economic coercion and the neglect of incentives and relevant “soft power” tools to spur Ukraine’s economic integration with the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, or selling Ukrainian natural gas pipelines to Gazprom.

Russia’s main policy instruments are unsophisticated trade barriers to reduce Ukrainian exports.

Interestingly, the Kremlin directs such trade sanctions against the very representatives of the Ukrainian business elite who are deeply involved in trade and business with Russia and are friendly to this country: Viktor Pinchuk (steel pipes), Petro Poroshenko (confectionery), Anatoliy Yurkevych (dairy products).

As a result, the pro-Russian business lobby in Ukraine is today weaker than at the beginning of Yanukovych’s presidency.

Illustratively, during the open Parliamentary Hearings on Ukrainian Economic Relations with the EU and the Customs Union on May 19, 2011, some representatives of Ukrainian big business, including the car manufacturer Ukravto and refrigerator maker Nord, spoke in favor of Ukraine’s membership in the Customs Union.

But such voices are muted today.

Fears that Russia would easily acquire important sectors of the Ukrainian economy—the nuclear power industry, aerospace or shipbuilding—have also not materialized.

Kost Bondarenko, the director of the Ukrainian Policy Institute, thinks that the pro-Russian business lobby is “situational” and not a stable entity.

While Analyst Michael Gonchar of the Nomos Center commented to Jamestown that Ukraine’s political lobby supportive of Russian business interests is often inefficient.

Gonchar thinks that the reason is the Russians’ “why pay more?” attitude and the desire to acquire Ukrainian assets cheaply.

He believes, however, that in certain long-term operations a pro-Russian lobby is strong and capable of reaching success, citing the example of Ukraine’s failed alternative Odessa-Brody oil pipeline.

Pro-Russian lobbyists in Ukrainian politics and government seem more proactive.

Viktor Medvedchuk, a seasoned, shrewd Ukrainian politician and the former head of President Leonid Kuchma’s administration in 2002–2005, has emerged at the center of the action.

On August 6, the deputy head of the Party of Regions parliamentary faction and advisor to the prime minister, Oleg Tsarev, told Forbes Ukraine that if Ukraine signs the Association Agreement, Vladimir Putin will not support Viktor Yanukovych in the 2015 presidential elections.

Moreover, according to a “tough scenario,” Putin might endorse Medvedchuk or another alternative candidate to Yanukovych.

Tsarev further suggested that a group of Rada deputies could appeal to the Constitutional Court, challenging that the Association Agreement with the EU contradicts the Ukrainian Constitution.

Tsarev’s comments prompted negative reactions from representatives of the Party of Regions and the Ukrainian justice ministry.

Even though Vladimir Putin’s endorsement of Viktor Medvedchuk seems natural, it is not very likely as Medvedchuk is not popular enough to win the presidency in such a short time before spring 2015.

Generally, it seems difficult for the Kremlin to rely on an alternative to the current Ukrainian president.

Kost Bondarenko, speaking to Jamestown on August 12, suggested Russia’s strategy is rather to have a pro-Russian group in the Rada after the 2017 parliamentary elections and then focus on endorsing a pro-Russian presidential candidate in Ukraine’s 2020 elections.

In addition to parliamentarians, pro-Russian statements and public appearances also come from some high-ranking Ukrainian public servants—a sign of disagreement within the pro-Yanukovych elite, as well as characteristic of the presidential administration’s “fence-sitting” policy.

The latest example is the announced participation of Ukraine’s Representative to the Eurasian Economic Commission Viktor Suslov and Government Representative on Cooperation with Russia, the Commonwealth of Independent States and EurAsEC Valeriy Muntian in an Expert Group to be created by the new pro-Russian public movement “OKEAN,” which supports Ukraine’s membership in the Customs Union.

Speaking to Jamestown on July 26, Parliamentarian Volodymyr Kurennoy (UDAR party), a member of the Verkhovna Rada Foreign Affairs Committee, commented that at least two distinct groups influence Yanukovych’s politics and government elite: the first is a pro-Russian group associated with Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, while the second one is not exactly pro-European, but rather supportive of a pragmatic “multi-vector” foreign policy and is associated with the head of the presidential administration, Serhiy Lyovochkin.

Kurennoy thinks that presently, the real influence of the pro-Russian group, as well as Azarov’s influence is “close to zero.”

While to date, the pro-Russian lobbyist activity in Ukraine seems generally ineffective to alter the country’s course, their influence cannot be underestimated.

At a minimum, such activity increases the costs for the Ukrainian government to pursue a pro-Western policy.

And in the medium term, Russia may increasingly rely on Ukrainian Eurosceptic power players, who will inevitably gain political weight as Ukraine works to accommodate Europe and the West.

Source: The Jamestown Foundation

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Clashes Erupt At Kiev City Rada Building

KIEV, Ukraine -- Clashes erupted Monday when opposition lawmakers broke into the heavily guarded Kiev city council building through windows seeking to prevent what they call an “illegal” session of the local legislature.

Batkivshchyna leader Arseniy Yatseniuk

The lawmakers, led by Batkivshchyna leader Arseniy Yatseniuk, tried to stop groups loyal to President Viktor Yanukovych from holding the session because the council’s five-year term in office had de-facto expired on June 2.

But the new election, which would most likely produce an anti-Yanukovych government in the city of Kiev, was postponed by the Constitutional Court until October 2015, or until after the next presidential election in March 2015.

Riot police stopped the opposition lawmakers unleashing a fierce attack, including beating several lawmakers in the face, as part of a plan to let the session open, making it legitimate.

“Dozens of lawmakers have come today to the council in order to protect the right to Kievites to the election,” Yatseniuk said after the clash with police.

“But [Yanukovych’s] Regions Party was acting like Nazis.”

The council opened for 10 minutes, enough time to approve five bills, including authorizing the Kiev government to disburse 400 million hryvnias ($49 million) to budget-financed organizations, such as schools and hospitals.

Yatseniuk said the fierce attack on the lawmakers by police was a test ahead of upcoming presidential election in March 2015 at which Yanukovych is expected to seek reelection.

Due to Yanukovych’s low approval ratings, he will probably lose the election, but will try to manipulate the vote and will use police to quell the people’s protests, Yatseniuk said.

"I do not remember this even during the Orange Revolution, that the police did not allow lawmakers to carry out their duties,” Yatseniuk said.

“What happened today is a script for the year of 2015 when Yanukovych will be defending the Central Election Commission when he will be rigging the vote,” Yatseniuk said.

The Kiev council voted to approve five bills, including disbursal of millions of hryvnias in state funds to budget-financed institutions, such as schools and hospitals. 

Oleksandr Popov, a Yanukovych-appointed head of the Kiev government, said the successful vote was a victory for the Kievites over “destructive forces.”

"Resuming the session of the council is a victory over the destructive forces of Kiev politics," Popov said quoted by his press service.

"With the support of trade unions, NGOs and the general public the Kiev City Council once again continues to fulfill its obligations to its citizens.”

The developments will mostly further escalate as Parliament resumes its session in September and may potentially lead to another political crisis.

The opposition groups sought to schedule the next Kiev mayor and Kiev council election on June 2, but the motion was defeated by the Regions Party.

The opposition will try to schedule the next elections on October 27, according to a bill submitted to Parliament earlier this year, but will probably also be defeated by the pro-Yanukovych groups.

Source: Ukrainian Journal

Russia's Plan For Ukraine: Purported Leaked Strategy Document Raises Alarm

KIEV, Ukraine -- It has long been known that Moscow is determined to prevent Ukraine from entering into an Association Agreement with the European Union.

Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk (R) and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Kiev on July 27.

And now, it seems, the Kremlin has a plan.

At least that's what many in Ukraine are thinking after the newspaper "Dzerkalo tyzhnia" over the weekend published a 10-page document the paper claims was drafted by Moscow and its allies in Ukraine that outlines a multipronged effort to extend Russia's influence in the country.

Opinions vary on the authenticity of the document.

But former Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service he had no doubt it reflects Moscow's intentions.

"You probably noted such words as 'coercion,' 'forcing,' and so on [in the document].

This has been the core of Russia's policy toward Ukraine for a long time," Ohryzko said.

"This is nothing new -- it is the continuation of the same imperialistic course.

"I hope this document will be read by as many Western diplomats in Ukraine as possible and that they will pass on the details to their capitals.

Maybe it will help them reach the right conclusions and finally realize that there is a systematic ideological, political, economic, and information war being waged against Ukraine."

The paper lays out a plan for achieving three key goals: preventing Ukraine from signing an EU Association Agreement, creating an "influential network" of pro-Russian organizations capable of preventing the government from "undertaking actions that are not beneficial for Russia," and bringing Ukraine into the Russia-led Eurasian Customs Union and Single Economic Space by 2015.

'Yellow Press' 

The publication comes at a time of high tensions between the two countries.

Russia recently conducted intense inspections of all goods crossing the border, saying it was rehearsing measures that would be implemented if Kiev proceeds with the "suicidal" agreement with the EU (Kiev announced on August 20 the checks had stopped).

Moscow has also specifically targeted the Roshen candy factory, which is owned by pro-Western former Foreign Minister Petro Poroshenko.

The purported document states plainly that Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk and his Ukraine's Choice civic movement can play "a key role" in achieving its goals.

RFE/RL asked Medvedchuk directly whether he was involved in drafting the paper.

He responded with a written statement criticizing the "yellow press" for publishing unverified documents.

"This is not the first time the yellow press has tried to connect my name with various scandalous stories. And publishing their fantasies under the guise of 'secret documents' citing unclear sources is a device that charlatans in the mass media have resorted to for centuries," Medvedchuk's statement said.

Although Medvedchuk's statement said nothing specifically about the published document or his alleged role in creating it, it did affirm his support for Ukraine's membership in the Russian-led customs union and asserted that his activity and the activity of Ukraine's Choice is "completely open."

The controversy casts a spotlight on the position of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who was widely viewed as a pro-Russian figure when he took office in 2010 on promises of improving relations with Moscow.

However, Yanukovych has since publicly followed a pro-European line, and Ukraine has been one of the success stories of the EU's Eastern Partnership Program.

Kiev has already initialed an Association Agreement and a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with Brussels and those documents could be finalized at the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius in November.

Kiev's relations with Brussels, however, have been complicated by the jailing of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in a case widely seen as politically motivated.

Yanukovych has pursued his pro-European policy by relying on a carefully balanced political power base comprising the pro-Russian business interests that helped bring him to power, the pro-Western business interests that have been attracted by his Europe-oriented policies, and a growing cadre of bureaucrats and top managers who have been installed since he took office and who owe their positions to him. 

Pro-Russian Credentials

The purported Russian document has led some analysts to conclude that Moscow is looking beyond November, toward the Ukrainian presidential election in 2015 and parliamentary elections in 2017.

But can Medvedchuk, 59, accomplish the plan's goals?

He served as chief of staff under Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and has been accused of using state resources to promote Yanukovych's unsuccessful 2004 presidential bid.

He denies those allegations and in recent months his Ukraine's Choice movement has been highly critical of Yanukovych.

Medvedchuk's pro-Russian credentials are easier to establish.

Putin and the wife of Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev are the godparents of Medvedchuk's daughter.

During Putin's recent visit to Ukraine to mark the 1,025th anniversary of the baptism of Kievan Rus, Putin spent far more time with Medvedchuk than with Yanukovych.

And last week, Medvedchuk was photographed attending a sports event in Sochi together with Putin, Medvedev, and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev.

He has played influential behind-the-scenes roles in Ukraine for years, but he has little public support.

Although Putin personally has high popularity ratings in eastern Ukraine, his endorsement is unlikely to boost Medvedchuk, says Kiev-based analyst Kost Bondarenko.

"Even if Putin appeared with Medvedchuk in eastern Ukraine tomorrow and called on people to vote for him -- Putin's own rating in those regions is about 25 percent -- it would not mean that Mevedchuk's popularity would rise," Bondarenko says.

"He'd get maybe 3 or 4 percent. Russia can play as much as it wants, but its games have little effect in Ukraine, as previous election campaigns have shown."

Political analyst Taras Berezovets agrees that even with the considerable financial backing of the Kremlin, Medvedchuk would not be able to compete with Yanukovych.

At best, Berezovets says, Medvedchuk might play the spoiler, weakening Yanukovych by draining off pro-Russian votes.

"The statements in support of Viktor Medvedchuk that Putin has already been making can help boost his rating to a certain extent," Berezovets says.

"But paradoxically, the historical mission of Medvedchuk might be to prevent Viktor Yanukovych from being elected to a second term."

Source: Radio Free Europe

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Russia Moves To Restrict Imports If Ukraine Signs EU Deal

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russia is moving to clamp down on imports from Ukraine if its ex-Soviet neighbor signs a landmark free-trade and political-association deal with the European Union, a senior adviser to President Vladimir Putin said.

Sergei Glazyev

The comments Sunday by Sergei Glazyev, a senior economic advisor to Mr. Putin, signal a more forceful approach by the Kremlin to the potential deal, which could anchor Ukraine, for centuries ruled from Moscow, more firmly in the West.

Moscow is urging Ukraine, a Texas-sized country sandwiched between Russia and the EU, to join a rival trade bloc that it is forming with other former Soviet republics.

Russia last week began tougher checks at the border that Ukrainian exporters said stalled shipments and caused serious financial losses.

Mr. Glazyev said Sunday that those checks were "preventative measures" in preparation for changes in customs procedures if Ukraine signs the EU pact.

"We are preparing to toughen customs administration in case Ukraine takes this suicidal step and signs the association agreement with the EU," Mr. Glazyev was quoted as saying by state news agency RIA Novosti.

Moscow has long dangled the carrot of cheaper gas prices—which Kiev says it needs to kick-start its spluttering economy—in return for Ukraine joining the customs union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has indicated so far, however, that he prefers the EU deal.

Ukraine's exports to Russia totaled 12.3 billion euros ($16.4 billion) last year, according to EU data, second only to the 12.9 billion euros of goods sent to the EU. 

Russia and Ukraine's prime ministers spoke about the tighter border checks by telephone Sunday, government officials from both countries said.

"The government heads expressed joint conviction that there can be no talk of a trade war between Russia and Ukraine," the office of Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said in a statement.

The statement from Russia's Dmitry Medvedev was terser, noting "the need to solve recent problems in trade relations on a mutually beneficial, constructive basis."

Senior officials from both sides will meet in the coming days, according to both statements.

Since Ukraine declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia has fought to maintain its centuries-old sway.

The Orange Revolution street protests in Kiev in 2004 swept a pro-Western president to power ahead of Mr. Yanukovych, who was then backed by Russia.

Mr. Yanukovych staged a remarkable comeback to win the presidency in a 2010 election.

But after signing a deal to extend the basing of Russia's Black Sea Fleet in Ukraine, he balked at tighter economic and political links pushed by Mr. Putin.

Instead, he wants to seal the EU agreement at a November summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, but the EU has not confirmed whether it will sign it.

The 28-nation bloc has criticized the 2010 conviction and jailing of Mr. Yanukovych's main political rival, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, for alleged abuse of office and pressed him to release her.

It also has criticized Kiev for putting up a hurdle to EU car imports through a new tariff.

Mr. Glazyev, the aide to Mr. Putin, said that an EU-Ukraine free-trade deal would lead to EU goods flooding Ukraine's market and that tough checks would be needed to prevent them flowing into Russia.

A post on Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt's Twitter blog Thursday said it would be "very serious" if Russia was starting a "silent trade war against Ukraine to block its relations with the EU."

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Monday, August 19, 2013

Hearing Of Former Ukrainian PM Tymoshenko Postponed

KHARKIV, Ukraine -- A court in Ukraine has postponed the hearing of imprisoned former prime minister and opposition leader, Yulia Tymoshenko, until September.

Former Ukraine Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

The court in the city of Kharkiv on Friday, postponed the hearing of the former premier for the 21st time, due to Tymoshenko’s absence.

Judge Konstantin Sadovsky scheduled Tymoshenko’s next hearing for September 6.

Tymoshenko refused to show up at court as a result of poor health condition.

She is currently receiving medical treatment for chronic back pain at a local hospital. 

The former leader of the country’s Orange Revolution has been convicted of overstepping her authority while negotiating a gas deal with Russia in 2009.

She says she's innocent and accuses Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych of throwing her in jail to bar her from last October's parliamentary elections.

She has also been charged of embezzling an estimated $405 million and evading tax worth over $87,000.

Tymoshenko has denied the allegations, saying the charges against her are politically motivated and that Ukraine has returned to the dark days of Stalinism.

She was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2011.

If found guilty in the second trial in court, Tymoshenko could face up to 12 years in jail.

Source: PressTV

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Ukraine Suspends Wheat Imports From Russian Regions Amid Trade Crisis

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine has banned the import of wheat from Russia's major wheat-producing regions following reports that Russia's customs service has significantly tightened regulations for all Ukrainian imports.

Russia's customs service has reportedly included all Ukrainian importers on its list of unreliable suppliers.

Ukrainian Veterinary and Sanitary Service officials announced late on August 15 that wheat imports from Russia's Siberian, North Caucasus, and Southern federal districts have been suspended due to foot-and-mouth disease.

The statement came hours after Ukrainian goods started backing up along the Russian-Ukrainian border because of more intensive Russian customs inspections. 

The Ukrainian Federation of Employers announced on August 14 that Russia's customs service had included all Ukrainian importers on its list of unreliable suppliers.

Gennady Onishchenko, the chief of Russia's consumer rights monitor, Rospotrebnadzor, denied on August 16 that Russia was waging a trade war with Ukraine to make Kiev drop its pursuit of a free-trade deal with the European Union. 

Source: Radio Free Europe

New Transmission Line Launched In Western Ukraine As Part Of World Bank-Supported Power Transmission Network Upgrade

BAR, Ukraine -- Construction of a new high voltage 72.9 km (45.3 mi)  long power transmission line and expansion of a 330-kilovolt substation in Bar have been completed in South-western Ukraine.

The completed improvements are part of a much larger on-going US$200 million Power Transmission Project supported by the World Bank.

The Bar substation is a bridge in the power transmission line connecting the Dniester Hydro Power Plant with tens of thousands of households in South-western Ukraine. 

With World Bank’s support since 2008, UkrEnergo, the state-owned power transmission operator, has been undertaking major upgrade of the country’s transmission system to reduce losses and enhance power services to customers across the country.

At a total cost of US$28.7 million, these completed upgrades will have significant benefits to the company and Ukraine.

They will make the Ukrainian power grid more reliable and efficient as they will help improve the company’s services and reduce significantly power losses and outages in the transmission network.

Moreover, the improvements at the Bar substation will ensure more stable voltage in the grid through continuous power transmission, using the resources of the Dniester Hydro Power Plant to full capacity, which will generate savings of about UAH250 million [US$31.2 million] a year.

Speaking at the launch, which was attended by Ukrainian Energy and Coal Industry Minister Eduard Stavytskiy and UkrEnergo Director Anatolii Khodakivskiy, Qimiao Fan, World Bank Country Director for Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine, said that the World Bank was delighted to support the country in its efforts to strengthen the national power transmission sector.

“The World Bank is very pleased to support this modernization project. Having reliable and efficient power supply is critical for Ukraine’s development and the investments we have made under this project will improve the lives of ordinary Ukrainians who will benefit from safe and reliable electricity supplies,” said Fan. 

“This project is a vivid example of our fruitful cooperation in Ukraine’s energy sector. We truly appreciate the ongoing collaboration and effective support we receive from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development to implement this project,” said Minister Stavytskiy.

Ukraine has one of the largest power transmission systems in Europe, and one of the oldest.

Over two thirds of the country’s almost 30,000 km (18,641 mi) of transmission lines and 133 substations have exceeded their lifetime.

This means that old and inefficient equipment need to be replaced at most substations.

“Recognizing the importance of the country’s energy infrastructure and working together with the Ministry of Energy and Coal Industry and UkrEnergo, the World Bank will continue to support the modernization of power transmission network in Ukraine”, said Fan.

To date, the World Bank’s current investment lending portfolio in Ukraine includes 10 projects totaling US$ 1.8 billion.

The Bank ended 2013 fiscal year with a record high disbursement ratio of 30.2%.

Since Ukraine joined the World Bank in 1992, Bank’s commitments to the country have totaled over US$ 7 billion for 40 projects and programs.

Source: The World Bank

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Putin Grasps Ukraine Warmly By The Throat

NEW YORK, USA -- My former colleague at Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe, Robert Coalson, draws my attention via Twitter to a fascinating development in Russo-Ukrainian comradeship.

Vladimir Putin, president of Russia.

Putin, as is well known, occasionally refers to a semi-mystical brotherhood between Russia and Ukraine that rests in part on the historical fact that the Russian state began in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine.

Countries have moved around the map since then, however.

And we should bear in mind that Cain and Abel were brothers, that “fraternity” was one of the stained watchwords of the French Revolution, and that Metternich drew the appropriate conclusion that “if I had a brother, I would call him ‘Cousin.’ ”

So how much is brotherhood worth?

According to a RFERL piece by Dmytro Shurkalo, Ukrainian trucks carrying goods into Russia are now being stopped wholesale and searched minutely, resulting in long lines and long delays.

This is actually an old French trick for ensuring that less-expensive Japanese technology reached the French consumer in much smaller amounts than those exported from Japan.

The Russian customs and their political bosses don’t seem to be disguising their motives, moreover.

This effective “non-tariff barrier” is being imposed on Ukraine in order to discourage the country from signing a free-trade deal with the European Union in November.

Shurkalo quotes this frank avowal from Sergei Markov, a Russian political analyst with ties to the Kremlin who is also well-known to American television viewers:

If Ukraine signs the suicidal DCFTA with the European Union — I can’t make myself call it a free-trade zone; it is a semicolonial model that Brussels is going to propose to Ukraine in Vilnius — and if Ukraine opens itself to cheap and possibly low-quality goods from the European Union, then Russia will be forced automatically to close its doors to all goods from the territory of Ukraine.

As Robert says, this quote alone is worth the price of admission.

It also points up the shifting menace of Putin’s foreign policy.

When Ukraine was hoping to join NATO and NATO seemed to be considering its application, the Russian line was that this was an intolerable provocation and a threat to Russian security.

But Moscow would not object, it was subtly suggested, to Ukraine’s joining a peaceful commercial body such as the EU.

Once NATO pushed Ukraine’s application into the long grass, though, a close relationship to the EU suddenly became another threat to Russian security.

And now this.

The lesson for the West, then, is that NATO should re-open negotiations with Ukraine (and, for that matter, with Georgia).

The main threat to security in Russia’s near-abroad is Moscow’s continuing neo-imperial attitude to its neighbors.

This threatens Russia’s security in the long run too.

And the West should be thinking of ways to draw Moscow further into the Euro-Atlantic institutions that Moscow plainly resents.

But there is a price of admission for that too: finally becoming a normal country.

Source: National Review

Russia Denies Waging 'Trade War' Against Ukraine

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russia denied on Friday that it was waging a trade war with Ukraine to keep its ex-Soviet neighbour from establishing closer political and economic relations with the European Union.

Ukraine's Prime Minister Mykola Azarov acknowledged "difficulties" at the border with Russia on Thursday but urged the media not to play up the scale of the dispute.

The Ukrainian Employers' Federation reported on Wednesday that all goods destined for Russia were being held up at the border without an explanation and subjected to rigorous checks.

The claim -- supported by such Ukrainian giants as the mining firm Metinvest and the beer maker Obolon -- follows the suspension in July of Russian imports from the popular chocolate brand Roshen over alleged quality concerns.

The head of Russia's consumer rights protection agency confirmed on Friday that Ukrainian goods were being put to more rigorous inspections but denied that this had anything to do with politics.

"We have a long and specific list of complaints ... relating to the protection of consumer rights," Federal Service for the Oversight of Consumer Protection and Welfare chief Gennady Onishchenko was quoted as saying by Interfax.

"If you want to call this a trade war, then call it a trade war," he added.

"But we are conducting professional work."

Russia remains Ukraine's closest trade partner and is responsible for nearly a quarter of its total exports.

But the authorities in Kiev are keen to reverse that dependence and have been leading negotiations with Brussels over a trade agreement that could serve as a stepping stone for Ukraine's eventual membership in the 28-nation bloc.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov acknowledged "difficulties" at the border on Thursday but urged the media not to play up the scale of the dispute.

"Do not inflate these problems artificially," Azarov cautioned.

Ukraine was due to raise the issue later on Friday during a meeting in the Russian city of Suzdal of a commission overseeing trade issues in the Moscow-led Customs Union that also groups Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Russian officials have said that trade with Ukraine would flow more smoothly if Kiev agreed to join the union -- something that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has thus far refused to do.

Nationalist politicians in Ukraine who support closer European integration accuse Moscow of trying to force Kiev into the Russian bloc by imposing the trade restrictions.

Source: Fox News

Friday, August 16, 2013

Russia Accused Of Trade War Against Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian politicians on Thursday accused Russia of starting a trade war to pressure the country against signing a cooperation pact with the European Union, bringing relations between the two former Soviet states to a new low.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk

Restrictions that Moscow slapped on Ukrainian products this week have left scores of trains and trucks queued at the border, according to a leading business group, which has warned of a "complete halt of Ukrainian exports."

Moscow has been critical of Kiev's plans to integrate economically and politically with the EU and lessen its dependence on imports of Russian natural gas.

Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to Kiev to attend a religious ceremony and again stressed that Russia should be Ukraine's closest ally.

After Kiev pressed on with its negotiations with the EU, Russia banned popular Ukrainian confectionary products from its stores late last month, citing safety concerns.

This week, it imposed tough restrictions on scores of other products, by adding Ukrainian companies to a list of risky producers.

The Russian government acknowledged traffic problems on the Russian-Ukrainian border, but did not give further details, according to the Interfax news agency.

Interfax reported that Russia's railway agency said that train cars have piled up at border crossings due to additional checks, but said the situation was "under control." 

Ukraine's government has shied from openly criticizing Russia, still a major trade partner, saying it was working on a solution.

Ukraine's railway agency said the delays at the border were Russia's fault.

Ukrainian opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk on Thursday accused Russia of trying to bully Ukraine into joining a Moscow-led economic alliance, the Customs Union, and prevent it from signing a free-trade deal with the EU in November.

"This trade war has reached a threatening scale," Yatsenyuk said in statement.

"Even bad neighbors don't do this, let alone partners." 

Even Ukraine's pro-government, Russia-friendly Party of Regions protested the move by Moscow.

"One should not speak this way to neighbors, to sovereign states," said Volodymyr Oliynyk, a Party of Regions parliament member.

"Ukraine is being coerced into joining the Customs Union in an uncivilized manner."

The business group, the Federation of Ukrainian Employers, said the trade restrictions could cost Ukrainian companies up to $2.5 billion in losses.

Analysts agree the move is an ill-disguised threat to Ukraine not to leave the Kremlin's sphere of influence.

"Moscow is pushing for Ukraine to join the CIS Customs Union," said Tim Ash, chief emerging-markets economist at Standard Bank.

He said the Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, will soon have to end his balancing act between Moscow and Brussels and take a stand.

"The Yanukovych administration probably wants to keep both options open, but the EU is now saying 'sign up in November, or we have to re-negotiate the whole deal, which will take years'," Ash said.

Source: AP