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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Yanukovych Sworn In As Ukraine President

Five years after the Orange Revolution ousted him from power, Ukraine's pro-Moscow opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych has been sworn in as president.

Trumpets blared inside Ukraine's parliament building this morning as a confident-looking Yanukovych prepared to take the oath of office after winning a close election earlier this month.

He takes over for Viktor Yushchenko.

The inauguration ends a disputed vote, but not a longstanding political crisis. Yanukovych's opponent in a runoff vote, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, says he stole his victory through fraud, and refuses to recognize the result.

The hall was partly empty during today's ceremony because deputies from her coalition boycotted the event.

But international monitors gave the election a clean bill of health, and during today's ceremony, central election commissions chief Volodymyr Shapoval repeated the ruling that Yanukovych had won by more than 3 percent of the vote.

Lawmakers applauded as Yanukovych took to the stage to be administered the oath of office. It was a remarkable turn of events for the pro-Moscow politician whose victory in a rigged presidential election in 2004 prompted hundreds of thousands of protesters onto the streets to take part in the Orange Revolution.

Yanukovych was soon ousted from power, after which pro-Western Yushchenko won a new election. He appointed his main ally Tymoshenko prime minister, but the two immediately fell out in bitter infighting that locked Ukraine into five years of political crisis that has stalled promised reforms and disillusioned ordinary Ukrainians.

Neither Yushchenko nor Tymoshenko attended today's ceremony.

'Difficult Situation'

In a speech after taking his oath, Yanukovych said Ukrainians made their voices clear in an election that had put the country on a new path.

"Ukraine is in an extremely difficult situation," he said. "There is no state budget for the current year. The debts on foreign loans are colossal. Poverty, a ruined economy, and corruption are only part of the list of the troubles that constitute Ukrainian reality."

Tymoshenko accuses Yanukovych of representing a group of corrupt business oligarchs who want to roll back the Orange Revolution's democratic gains and put Kyiv back under Moscow's influence. But the former communist official -- who served two jail terms for assault and robbery in his youth -- today said he would establish rules separating business from politics and continue the country's integration into Europe.

"Ukraine will embark on a foreign policy," Yanukovych said, "that will allow our country to fully benefit from equal and mutually beneficial relations with Russia, the European Union and the United States."

Yanukovych is expected to travel to Brussels on March 1 for his first foreign trip as president. At the top of his list of priorities will be to pull the country out of a devastating economic crisis, beginning by restarting talks with the International Monetary Fund, which last year froze a $16.4 billion bailout.

But Yanukovych is also widely expected to steer Ukraine toward Russia, which ridiculed the Orange Revolution and recalled its ambassador last year, saying it would not speak to then-President Yushchenko.

Yanukovych has indicated he would put an end to Ukraine's drive to join NATO and renegotiate a gas-supply deal with Moscow, which some believe would enable him to reestablish closer ties with Russia's Gazprom.

More Jousting To Come

While his inauguration today concludes a bitter election, it doesn’t end an ongoing political crisis that looks set only to escalate.

Tymoshenko has dropped a legal challenge against Yanukovych's election victory, but on February 22 said the portly politician with a reputation for public gaffes "is not our president." She's called on deputies from her coalition to oppose him.

Yanukovych, for his part, has vowed to remove Tymoshenko from office, which may only be possible though snap parliamentary elections later this year. He's also promised to rewrite the country's constitution to give the presidency more power.

In the meantime, the new president is maneuvering to form a new governing coalition and has named three candidates as his possible choices for prime minister. Two took part in the first round of the presidential election last month.

This month's election results reflected a country deeply split between its largely Russian-speaking east -- which overwhelmingly supported Yanukovych -- and its European-leaning West, which backed Tymoshenko.

But less than 50 percent of the electorate voted for Yanukovych, and many across Ukraine say they don't see any significant differences between him and Tymoshenko. Most say they want the new president to create jobs and establish effective governance, neither of which appear likely any time soon.

New Ukraine president inaugurated

Event takes place despite allegations of voter fraud

Viktor Yanukovych was inaugurated as Ukraine's president Thursday, despite allegations by his rival of voter fraud, five years after massive protests of voter fraud thwarted his first bid at the office.

Yanukovych took the oath of office in the Verkhovna Rada, in Kiev. The Ukrainian parliament has been the scene of intense manoeuvring over the future of Yulia Tymoshenko, who aims to stay on as prime minister.

Yanukovych narrowly defeated Tymoshenko in presidential elections Feb. 7. Tymoshenko alleges vote fraud, but has dropped a court case on the claims.

The rivalry is not a new one.

Tymoshenko led the 2004 Orange Revolution protests that paved the way for a rerun of a presidential election in which Yanukovych had been declared winner. He lost the repeated vote to Viktor Yushchenko.

Yanukovych enters office with a shaky mandate, inheriting an economy crippled by the global financial crisis and a nation whose political loyalties are deeply divided.

He has broad support in the Russian-speaking east of the country, but in the Ukrainian-speaking west, he lost in virtually every region to Tymoshenko.

Her refusal to concede defeat and step down from the premiership threatens to prolong the kind of political wrangling that has paralyzed Ukraine's government for several years, deepening the financial crisis that shrank the economy by 15 per cent last year.

The parliament has not even been able to pass a budget for this year

Read more:

Russian Patriarch blesses Yanukovich ahead of inauguration ceremony (updated)

Kiev, February 25, Interfax - Ukraine's next president Viktor Yanukovich has received a blessing from Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia at the Kiev Laura of the Caves ahead of the official inauguration ceremony.

"May God bless you in your accession to power," the Patriarch told the president-elect.

The Church Primate stressed the importance of establishing friendly relations between “component parts of Kievan Rus.” “God grants, your undertakings will be aimed at Ukraine’s prosperity,” the Patriarch said after reading in Ukrainian several lines from the Prayer for Ukraine and giving Yanukovich an image of the Savior as a present.

No activists of the UNA-UNSO nationalistic organization, who planned to hold a protest rally, were to be seen near the monastery, an Interfax correspondent reported.

No provocations or other protest rallies have been staged.

The entrance to the Laura of the Caves is being guarded by over 50 policemen.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Makes New Demands on Ukraine after Yanukovich`s Victory

Paul Goble

Vienna, February 22 – Moscow has demanded that incoming Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich among other things end Kyiv’s contacts with the CIA and allow the FSB to return to Crimea, part of a more general effort by Russia to exploit the election outcome in Ukraine and an indication of what will be at stake there in the coming months.

In an article in today’s issue of “Vlast’,” journalist Vladimir Solovyev, drawing on both Russian and Ukrainian diplomatic sources, describes Moscow’s pleasure at the election of Yanukovich and its expectations that he will reverse many of the “orange” policies of his predecessor Viktor Yushchenko.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Solovyev notes, has not been able to hide his delight that Yushchenko will soon be out of office and that the “orange” revolution which brought him to office in 2005 will now be overcome, bringing Ukraine back into Moscow’s orbit.

Last week, when Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev visited Moscow, Putin said that he well “remembers 2005 and those quasi-revolutionary events which took place in Ukraine. Then, the leaders of this ‘color revolution’ used the dissatisfaction of people and their expectations for change.” Now, however, Ukrainians have recognized that they were “deceived.”

An anonymous Russian foreign ministry source told the “Vlast’” journalist that Moscow was pleased “not so much by the victory of Yanukovich than by the defeat of Yushchenko” and by the ways in which this change represented a defeat of the American policy of “promoting ‘orange revolutions’ and democratic ideals.”

“For us,” a Kremlin source said, “the main thing is that Yushchenko will no longer be ruling in Ukraine.” But unlike his foreign ministry counterpart, the Kremlin source indicated that Moscow was prepared to work with Timoshenko but feels that “it will be easier to resolve certain questions, such as the presence of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in Crimea” with Yanukovich.

For Moscow, “Vlast’” continues, “the five year administration of Yushchenko is recalled in Moscow as a terrible dream,” and the paper says that “Russian diplomats are joking that February 7th (the date of the second round of elections in Ukraine) should be made a red letter day like May 9th.”

That is because, one Russian diplomat told the paper, “the last five years became a test. We struggled in order not to allow Ukraine to enter NATO and to preserve our fleet there. [And] not without difficulty, we saved the canonical unity of the Orthodox Church,” by means of a complex “special operation.”

Last week, Solovyev continues, “Putin outlined Moscow’s expectations from the new Ukrainian powers that be: ‘We would like to hope that the difficult period in the life of the fraternal to all of us Ukrainian people is behind and that it will be possible to develop normal inter-government relations, to build plans in economics and strengthen social cooperation.”

Moscow has already delivered its list of what it expects from Ukraine, the “Vlast’” journalist says. On February 13, Sergey Naryshkin, the head of the Russian Presidential Administration, spent “about six hours together with Yanukovich” during which the Kremlin official outlined Moscow’s requirements for better relations.

According to a Ukrainian diplomatic source, Solovyev continues, Moscow has prepared “a whole list of concrete steps which the new powers that be in Kyiv could undertake as a sign of the renewal of the former friendship between the fraternal peoples.” Moscow “would like,” the source continued, to see Ukraine’s security services drop its relations with the American CIA.

In addition, Moscow would like to “renew the work of the Russian FSB office in the Black Sea Fleet, the officers of which [Yushchenko] had required to quit Crimea at the end of last year.” And it has indicated that Moscow “expects” Yanukovich to “end any military cooperation with Georgia, a link that had flourished under his predecessor".

“All these questions in principle are in the competence of the president,” the Ukrainian source said, and consequently positive actions on them can become “gestures of good will by the new powers that be of Ukraine on the path to the full restoration of relations” between Kyiv and Moscow.

Naryshkin’s visit is the first sign Russia wants to restore high-level ties. And some in Kyiv expect President Dmitry Medvedev to come to Yanukovich’s inauguration on February 25th to show that relations have resumed in that way. And he noted that some will remember that Medvedev was responsible for Ukrainian affairs at the time of “the orange revolution.”

Meanwhile in another Moscow comment on the shift in Ukraine, Avtandil Tsuladze in today’s “Yezhednevny zhurnal” writes that “even for people who are not professionally interested in politics, it is obvious that the US had surrendered Ukraine to Putin’s Russia in order to solve more immediate tasks – “sanctions against Iran and help for NATO in the Afghan war.”

But Tsuladze says, it is clear that the Americans are not going to get what they want either on those issues because “Russian ‘hawks’ consider the US to be their chief enemy,” and “their logic is simple: the worse things are for the United States, the better it will be for them".

Meanwhile, in another indication of the reordering of the Eurasian geopolitical space, the Russian state statistics committee has now shifted Georgia from the “near abroad” category to the “far abroad,” putting it outside of the area that Moscow has made clear it considers to be its immediate sphere of influence.

Ukraine leader set for visa disappointment in Brussels


EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - Ukraine's new leader, Viktor Yanukovch, is planning to visit the EU capital next week. However, the bloc is unlikely to reward him with an early deal on visa-free travel.

The president elect is in talks with the office of EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton to come to Brussels on Monday (1 March), three days following his inauguration in Kiev and more than a week before a planned trip to Moscow.

The EU visit is intended to signal Mr Yanukovych's foreign policy priorities and to help dispel his image as a Kremlin stooge.

Poland at an EU foreign ministers meeting on Monday (22 February) stuck its neck out with a proposal for the union to reciprocate by offering Ukraine a roadmap for visa-free travel when the president drops by.

A roadmap would not commit the bloc to lifting travel barriers if Ukraine failed to pass milestones, such as passport security reforms. But it would offer a start date and a target end date for talks and would be an important political signal for the new Ukrainian elite as well as for ordinary Ukrainians.

Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski also suggested the EU could temporarily lift visas during the Euro 2012 football championship, to be held in Poland and Ukraine, as a "test."

The Polish proposals represent progress for Ukraine after just Lithuania, Estonia and Slovakia backed a similar idea at an EU meeting last November.

A Polish diplomat said Ms Ashton accepted the Polish argument that the EU should not rush into giving visa-free travel to Russians while leaving Ukrainians behind - Russia is also awaiting an EU decision to open talks on dropping travel barriers.

But there was not enough support round the table for the EU to make an announcement next week: "We have clearly stated in our previous agreements with Ukraine that visa-free is a 'long-term perspective.' Nothing has changed," a French diplomat told EUobserver.

An EU official said: "Perhaps we can find a middle ground between the roadmap and the status quo," suggesting that the Yanukovych meeting could see a friendly EU declaration on visas, but without the roadmap being put in place.

The news is unlikely to be greeted warmly in Kiev. Ukraine's EU affairs minister, Konstantin Yeliseyev, has battled against the EU's arm's length visa policy for the past three years, while accusing EU powers of a "lack of strategic vision" in the east.

Ukrainian nationalists indignant at Moscow patriarch blessing president-elect

23 February 2010

Ukrainian nationalist and rightist forces have expressed indignation at Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill's visit to Kiev in order to attend the inauguration of president-elect Viktor Yanukovych on 25 February.

The Ukrainian news agency UNIAN at 1437 gmt on 22 February reported that the UNA-UNSD (Ukrainian National Assembly - Ukrainian National Self-Defence) nationalist organization planned to stage a protest against Patriarch Kirill's visit on 25 February. "UNA-UNSD expresses a decisive protest against Kirill's announced intention to bless Yanukovych's inauguration... If Kirill comes to Kiev, we want to deliver our feelings to him personally... We are going to hold a vigil. We want the whole world to see that it is not Russia's province," the head of the UNA-UNSD executive committee, Ruslan Zaychenko, said.

The Interfax-Ukraine news agency at 1612 gmt on 22 February quoted the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists (CUN) as protesting against Patriarch Kirill's participation in a church prayer before Yanukovych's inauguration. "We believe that the fact of inviting the Patriarch of the neighbouring state's church to bless the newly-elected Ukrainian president shows Yanukovych's colonial dependence on Moscow," the congress said in a statement.

Leaders of Ukrainian churches were not invited to take part in the prayer, CUN said. "The Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists sees the actions of the newly-elected president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, as posing a threat to the sovereignty of the Ukrainian state and leading to a split of the Ukrainian nation," the congress said.

At 0930 gmt on 23 February, UNIAN quoted the centre-right People's Movement of Ukraine (Rukh) as saying that inviting Patriarch Kirill to the inauguration shows that Yanukovych is unwilling to unite Ukrainian society and state.

Rukh said that Yanukovych "showed his vision of Ukraine as a periphery. We see his unwillingness to unite Ukrainian society and state behind this step. Most Ukrainians are sincere believers who support the existence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church with its centre in Kiev, not in Moscow. Moreover, a large part of Ukrainians are the parish of Greek Catholic and other Christian churches which have nothing in common with Moscow and have been showing understanding and tolerance during all years of Ukraine's independence. Therefore, by doing this Yanukovych will sow discord among Ukrainians and show them that he will never become the president of all Ukraine."

The Ukrayina Moloda newspaper quoted the For Ukraine party loyal to outgoing President Viktor Yushchenko as saying that "President Viktor Yanukovych's assumption of office should not be blessed by a foreign hierarch".

Yanukovych "should have seen himself as the president of all Ukraine. A president of all Ukraine should be blessed by the leaders of Ukrainian churches," the party said in a statement. Otherwise, "from the very first moment of his presidency, the head of state will demonstrate his dependence and provoke confrontation in society", the party said.

Sources: UNIAN news agency, Kiev, in Ukrainian 1437 gmt 22 Feb 10; Interfax-Ukraine news agency, Kiev, in Russian 1612 gmt 22 Feb 10; UNIAN news agency, Kiev, in Ukrainian 0930 gmt 23 Feb 10; Ukrayina Moloda, Kiev, in Ukrainian 23 Jan 10; p 4

Friday, February 19, 2010

Could partition solve Ukraine`s problems?

Ethan S. Burger, 19 February 2010

In the light of Ukraine’s election result, Ethan S. Burger offers a proposal for the creation of a new Ukrainian state. Partition would do more than better reflect the country’s national/ethnic composition, he suggests. It could also make the country economically viable, while enhancing European stability.

What of Ukraine's future now? The country's Central Election Commission has announced that the leader of the Party of the Regions Viktor Yanukovich has been elected president in the second round of voting. Despite Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko's claims to the contrary, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has announced the elections to be fair. However, the election outcome will not be confirmed until Ukraine's Administrative Court concludes its examination of Ms. Yulia Tymoshenko claim that the Election Commission's official "results" are invalid. The Court's determination should be issued prior to February 25th, when the new Ukrainian President is to be inaugurated.

The Ukrainian economy is in terrible shape. Loans and technical assistance from the European Union, international organizations and the United States have had a very limited economic impact on a country plagued by corruption. Much of the Ukrainian population is suffering financially.

The last two Ukrainian presidential elections suggest how strong a role national identity appears to play in determining voting behaviour. Last Sunday, as in 2004, Viktor Yanukovich received a majority of votes in Eastern Ukraine, where most of the population has a closer affinity to Russia than to Western Europe.

Western Ukraine used to be referred to as "New Russia," in recognition of the fact that these lands were only added to the Russian Empire through conquest in the 17th and 18th centuries. With respect to political attitudes, the majority here seem to hold views which are closer to those of Poles than Russians. Still, the Russian/Ukrainian linguistic/national distribution in the country is not uniform.

The issue of self-identity is complex. But it is no accident that Mr. Yanukovich has more appeal to Ukrainian citizens of Russian national origin than does Ms. Timoshenko, the catalyst behind the so-called Orange Revolution, which has disappointed popular expectations.

Collective nouns and generalizations can be misleading. It is indisputable that Ukraine has a complex ethnology. No less than 17% of Ukraine's population are of Russian national origin and are primarily Russian-speaking. A fair segment of the population is either bilingual, or ethnically mixed (usually with one parent who considers themselves "Russian" and the other "Ukrainian"). These people tend not to see the choice of language as a political issue so much as a means of communication.

In Western Ukraine, the majority are Ukrainian speaking. While they may understand Russian and speak it when necessary , they tend to see the preservation of Ukrainian culture, history and language as a priority. In addition, Ukraine has other nationalities such as Crimean Tatars, Greeks and others.

Still, it would be a mistake to assume that nationality was a decisive factor in the recent electoral outcome. Ms. Timoshenko was viewed negatively by many of the country's population -- including Mr. Viktor Yushchenko, the country's ineffective president, who finished fourth in the first round of voting and cast his vote in the second round for "none of the above".

Mr. Yushchenko hoped that closer ties to the West would produce a vibrant Ukrainian economy. He was wrong. For a start, Ukraine is substantially dependent on Russia for its energy. Yushchenko was also unable significantly to reduce government corruption. Russia did not hide its hostility to his remaining in office. But in the recent election, unlike 2004, the Russian leadership did not blatantly express its preference for Mr. Yanukovich. Instead it made it clear that Ms. Timoshenko and Mr. Yanukovich were both individuals with whom Moscow could work. This reduced Ms.Timoshenko's ability to play the nationalist card in the second round of voting. Indeed, the fact that a share of the Ukrainian electorate considered her to be ethically-challenged hurt her as a candidate.

So what of Ukraine's future? Clearly, the election result must be viewed as a foreign policy success for the Kremlin. It looks as if Russia will have a satellite on its southern frontier -- it is doubtful whether either the Russian leadership or Mr. Yanukovich would risk Russian absorption of Ukraine.

The argument for partition

On the other hand, Ukrainians who are apprehensive over the country's future might consider division of the country. This would be difficult to
accomplish, and it might provoke a good deal of instability. It would be particularly hard to decide exactly where precisely to partition the country. But the alternatives might be worse.

On the positive side, for those Ukrainians who regard the prospect of renewed subordination to Moscow with repugnance, it would provide an opportunity to create a new state more consistent with their desires. The Russian government might even favour the idea. It could be accomplished through a referendum overseen by the OSCE.

International borders are often arbitrary and, over time, never permanent. While they may reflect the topography of the land, more often than not they are a product of political whim or of military force. Most countries have regional differences within their borders. But borders have real consequences for history, for language, nationality, politics and religion. This may be the reason why Ukrainian law prohibits dual citizenship -- to prevent ethnic Russians from undermining Ukrainian independence and effecting reunification with Russia.

It has been approximately 18 years since the Soviet Union's break-up and the re-emergence of the Ukrainian state. Despite the claims of many official statements, polls and sociological surveys, Ukraine has not completely solved its nationality problem. The present situation has certain parallels with Yugoslavia during the 1970-80s. Then, to the chagrin of the federal government, more people thought of themselves as Bosniaks, Croats, Montenegrins, Serbs and Slovenes, than Yugoslavs. While the preservation of Yugoslavia proved untenable, the failure to reach a political solution led to incomprehensible death and destruction.

Nor is successful partition without precedent in recent history. In 1993, Czechoslovakia split peaceably into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Both countries now pursue their separate courses, while moving in the same general direction politically. The Czech Republic has a small Slovak minority, while Slovakia has a small Hungarian minority. All three, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia, are members of both the EU and NATO.

Last, but by no means least, it might prove possible for the West to prop up a smaller Ukraine whose government were committed to the goal of Western development.

Ethan S. Burger has been following events in the Soviet Union and its successor states for over 20 years. He is an Adjunct Professor at the Georgetown University Law Center.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ukraine Will Be a Bridge Between East and West

We are a nation with a European identity, but we have historic cultural and economic ties to Russia as well. We can benefit from both.


Over the past month, Ukraine has demonstrated twice that it cherishes the values of democracy and the belief that it is important for people to vote. Ukraine's presidential election was validated by all of the major international observer groups as free, fair and transparent, which attested to the Ukrainian people's resolve for a democratic election. The people of Ukraine desired change and their voices were heard. Now we have the great responsibility to help our fellow countrymen, who have cast votes for me hoping for a better life.

This election was defined by a financial and economic crisis that has devastated our country. Before the global economic crisis, Ukraine was one of Europe's top emerging markets, and economic prosperity did not seem beyond our reach in the near term. Now all that has changed, and the people demanded change in the way our Government works in Ukraine.

We must still put an end to the political turmoil that has crippled Ukraine and held our country hostage for so long. I will work ardently to do this as president. The only way that this can be accomplished is for the top political forces and their leaders, immediately after the presidential election results have been declared and certified, to avoid confrontation and unite for the sake of saving our country. We are a nation capable of great things but we will accomplish none of them if we continue to bicker among ourselves and ignore the enormous challenges that we must confront.

Let me say here, a Yanukovych presidency is committed to the integration of European values in Ukraine. Ukraine should make use of its geopolitical advantages and become a bridge between Russia and the West. Developing a good relationship with the West and bridging the gap to Russia will help Ukraine. We should not be forced to make the false choice between the benefits of the East and those of the West. As president I will endeavor to build a bridge between both, not a one-way street in either direction. We are a nation with a European identity, but we have historic cultural and economic ties to Russia as well. The re-establishment of relations with the Russian Federation is consistent with our European ambitions. We will rebuild relations with Moscow as a strategic economic partner. There is no reason that good relations with all of our neighbors cannot be achieved.

If we hope to become a bridge between two important spheres we cannot merely talk and make promises; we must deliver concrete policies and achieve real progress. If we hope to join the European Union we must secure political stability and establish ourselves as an economically viable nation. We must be pragmatic and focused to achieve EU membership. We must create transparent policies that allow our economy to thrive and demonstrate that Ukraine will add value to the EU as a new member state.

I am committed to conducting a policy that would strengthen our links with respected international financial institutions, and increase our standing in the world economic community. My election program, "Ukraine for the People," is a deep and comprehensive plan that clearly specifies how to achieve social and economic progress. It is not an easy task. We will be confronted with the same conflicts as Europe and Washington have faced—how to stimulate our economy to create jobs while not decreasing the social protections needed by our citizens. We must defeat corruption, which has become rampant over the last several years and has damaged our ability to attract foreign investment.

If we hope to join the EU and raise the standard of living of Ukrainians to that of other European nations, we must restore our economy from within. There are three fundamental objectives the Ukrainian economy must achieve in order to thrive: First, we must create jobs; second, we must stabilize prices so people can afford the necessities that they need to live; and third, we must ensure our citizens receive adequate wages and pensions. Giving our citizens a basic economic foundation is a critical first step to restoring the broken bond between the people and the government of Ukraine.

And so that is my agenda—to restore economic vitality and calm the political turbulence that has plagued our nation; to enable Ukraine to take advantage of its natural positioning as a thriving bridge between Russia and the West; and finally, to prepare a free and open Ukraine, economically and politically, to join the European Union when the time comes.

Ukraine is a beautiful country with hard-working and virtuous people who ask only for a chance at a better life. I know that if we can come together, we will achieve great things. As president, I plan to give Ukrainians the nation they deserve—a Ukraine for the people.

Mr. Yanukovych is president-elect of Ukraine.

Ukrainian court suspends results of Ukraine's presidential election pending decision on appeal

The Associated Press
Wednesday, February 17, 2010; 9:26 AM

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's presidential election results giving the victory to Russia-friendly Viktor Yanukovych were suspended Wednesday pending review of his rival's appeal.

Ukraine's Administrative Court said it would rule on Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's appeal by Feb. 25, when lawmakers had planned to inaugurate Yanukovych.

Tymoshenko has refused to concede, claiming the election was tainted by fraud. Instead of stepping down as Yanukovych prodded her, she ordered her Cabinet to work out a plan for economic reform for the next five years.

Tymoshenko also attacked her rival on another front, launching consultations in parliament to derail Yanukovych's inauguration set for next week. Her campaign chief, Alexander Turchinov, said Wednesday that Tymoshenko's faction in parliament will introduce a motion to postpone the ceremony.

Until the ruling on her appeal, the court said, it was suspending the Central Election Commission's declaration that Yanukovych had won the Feb. 7 vote by just 3.5 percentage points.

International observers have deemed Ukraine's latest election free and fair, and President Barack Obama and other leaders have already congratulated Yanukovych.

But Tymoshenko urged a full re-count of the vote, delivering what she said was evidence to the court on Tuesday.

She asked her supporters, however, not to hold street demonstrations - as they did in what became known as the 2004 Orange Revolution.

Those pro-Western mass protests lead to a court's overturning Yanukovych's presidential election victory that year and ordering a rerun, which was won by Tymoshenko ally Viktor Yushchenko.

Years of infighting between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko deepened the nation's economic woes and helped Yanukovych mount a comeback. He campaigned on promises to improve ties with Russia, which became strained as pro-Western Yushchenko sought NATO and EU membership for Ukraine.

It was unclear how strong Tymoshenko's case in the appeal may be or whether the court would be likely to give it credence. Some Ukrainian court decisions are seen as influenced by politics more than by evidence.

Anna German, the vice chairwoman of Yanukovych's Party of Regions, dismissed the court deliberations as a "mere formality."

"These proceedings can't overturn the obvious: The majority of Ukrainians have voted for Yanukovych," she said. "The entire world has recognized Yanukovych's victory."

Viktor Nebozhenko, the head of the respected Ukrainian Barometer polling agency, predicted that the court will rule against Tymoshenko's appeal because many judges on the court support Yanukovych.

"Tymoshenko knows quite well that she has little chance of winning, but she will use the proceedings to make strong accusations," he said. "Tymoshenko's key goal is now to stay in the prime minister's seat. She has nothing to lose and is ready to offer promises and jobs."

Another Kiev-based political analyst, Vadim Karasyov, said that Tymoshenko's defiance will likely force Yanukovych to call early elections to attempt to win control over parliament, which appoints the prime minister.

"If Yanukovych fails to muster a majority to force Tymoshenko out, he has a choice of being a weak president under the strong prime minister, or risk early parliamentary elections," Karasyov said.

The Nation: Yushchenko Poisons The Ukraine

by Mark Ames

February 17, 2010

If you've been wondering what ever happened to that wonderful Orange Revolution in Ukraine — because let's face it, it was probably the last feel-good moment America collectively experienced in an otherwise bummer-packed decade — Sunday's presidential elections in the former Soviet republic provided the answer: it went bad. Voters returned to power the same supposed villain, Viktor Yanukovych, whom they forced out in mass demonstrations the last time there presidential elections were held in 2004. The Orange Revolution's leaders were overthrown by the same voters whom they empowered.

No politician suffered a more humiliating rejection than the former leader of that revolution and the current sitting president, Viktor Yushchenko — the pockmarked hero of the revolution who overcame a poisoning attempt on his life to lead the pro-democracy crowds to power in 2004. Yushchenko is so widely loathed that he was knocked out of the presidential race in the first round in January, receiving a mere 5 percent of the vote, or fifth place — one of the most embarrassing defeats by any sitting president in modern times.

Unfortunately for Ukrainians and for the region, we lost interest in that area after Yushchenko's victory because for us, the revolution was less about improving the locals' lives and more about boosting American exceptionalism's wounded ego, which in 2004-2005 was at its rawest. Now it's five years later, and "our guy" Yushchenko, whom we backed unquestioningly, turned out to be a colossal failure in every way imaginable — and his final moves in office may turn out to be his most destructive of all.

Last month, shortly after Yushchenko's humiliating defeat in the first round of elections, he officially rehabilitated one of Ukraine's most controversial WWII-era figures, the ultra-nationalist leader Stepan Bandera — a move so fraught with danger down the road that it's as though he did it to punish his disloyal voters. Operating in the western region of Ukraine known as Galicia from the 1930s through the 1950s, Bandera's military organization adopted typical fascist symbols and trendy racist ideas promoting ethnic chauvinism and racial purity to pursue its goal of creating an independent Ukrainian state.

The move sparked angry reactions from Jewish groups in Ukraine and abroad, as well as Russian-speaking Ukrainians and Poland, among others.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a leading Jewish human rights group named after the famous hunter of Nazis, sharply criticized Yushchenko's move. "It's a terrible signal to send, giving that kind of recognition to someone whose group cooperated with the Nazis, and whose followers were linked to the massacres of Jews," said Mark Weitzman, the group's US director of governmental affairs.

In the 1930s, when the western part of Ukraine (known as "eastern Galicia") was under Polish control, Bandera's Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) terrorized Polish officials and families with assassinations. Bandera's guerrillas grew increasingly successfu, thanks to German military training and support. The 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact handed the Ukrainian-dominated eastern part of Galicia over to Soviet control, making Russia the main enemy for Bandera and the OUN. When the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, Bandera's forces fought alongside the Wehrmacht. Jewish Holocaust scholars, among others, say that Bandera's forces participated in the mass killings of Jews in L'viv and other parts of Western Ukraine where Jews once thrived. But within a few months after Operation Barbarossa started, Hitler soured on the alliance and imprisoned Bandera. Many of his followers integrated themselves into the Nazi-run security forces.

Last week, the chief rabbi of Ukraine, Reuven Azman, announced that he was returning his Order of Merit that the government awarded him to protest the rehabilitation of Bandera, calling the move a "hideous blow to Ukraine's image" and warning of dark "consequences."

Protests and criticism spread both inside Ukraine and in neighboring Russia and Poland. That's because Bandera's toxic ethnic chauvinism, centered on promoting ethnic Ukrainians from the western, more Catholic region, targeted not just Jews,but all non-Ukrainians. Given Ukraine's ethnic makeup, glorifying one region's racism as "heroic" is suicidal.

Ukraine is ethnically divided between the Russian-speaking east of the country, culturally closer to Moscow; the mixed Russian-Ukrainian center of the country, which is largely Orthodox; and the far west, where Catholicism runs strong. Already, an MP from the mostly Russian-speaking Crimea burned his passport to protest Bandera's rehabilitation, while a lawyer from the eastern part of Ukraine filed a lawsuit to have Bandera's Hero of Ukraine honor annulled.

Ever since its independence in 1991, Ukraine has had to grapple with the ethnic divisions, which some (including the CIA) have worried could tear the country apart if someone should exploit it. Making a hero out of Bandera, an ethnic chauvinist and arguably the most divisive Ukrainian figure of the past century, is exactly the sort of reckless move that could cleave Ukraine internally and set off its neighbors.

Like Poland — which until last week had been Yushchenko's biggest supporter (thanks to their shared Russophobia). Bandera's forces slaughtered some 100,000 ethnic Poles in their ethnic cleansing campaign during the thirties and forties, something that hasn't been forgotten but merely shelved for the time being. Thanks to Yushchenko, this bitter wound has been torn open again: last week, Poland's President Lech Kaczynski accused Yushchenko of putting "current political interests [over] the historical truth," and suggested the move could even drive a wedge between the two nationalities. That sparked immediate counter-protests by ultranationalist Ukrainians who descended on the Polish Embassy in Kiev, denouncing centuries of alleged Polish imperialism in Ukraine. It all may sound petty and absurd, if the wars in the former Yugoslavia hadn't reminded us how these old grudges can quickly turn ugly.

The irony of Poland complaining to Ukraine about historical revisionism hasn't been lost on Russia, which lost millions in World War II fighting the Nazis and their collaborators, and battled against Bandera's forces well into the 1950s, ending with the KGB assassination of Bandera in 1959 while he was living in exile in Munich. Next to Poles, Bandera's ultranationalists reviled Russians and Russian-speakers above all, since they saw the Soviet Union and Russian imperialism as their mortal enemies. The Russian Foreign Ministry denounced the glorification of Bandera as "odious," while Prime Minister Putin, during a meeting with Russia's chief rabbi in late January, pledged to continue monitoring "the distortion of history and Holocaust denial." Putin has been closely policed by Western pundits and politicians for signs that he may be whitewashing, or at least insufficiently denouncing, the Soviet Union's crimes—but these same pundits have been oddly silent over the appalling ultranationalist historical relativism coming out of the former East Bloc countries, or what the neocons call "New Europe."

Indeed, both Russia and several Jewish organizations have been increasingly alarmed over a concerted effort over the past few years to rewrite the history of World War II in order to equate the Nazi crimes and the Holocaust to the Soviet crimes, something that Mark Weitzman of the Wiesenthal Center terms, "Relativizing the Holocaust."

Bandera's rehabilitation may be the last straw. Weitzman said that in his talks with US officials in Washington and on Capitol Hill, he believes that the American silence on the matter will soon change as they are beginning to understand the seriousness of the situation. "They [US officials] didn't even know this was happening until recently," he said, referring to the "Prague Declaration" in 2008, a gathering of politicians mostly from Central and Eastern Europe, which called for the revision of history textbooks to equate Soviet crimes with Nazi crimes, and Soviet culpability in starting the war with the Nazis.

(Repeated attempts to reach Vice President Joe Biden's office and State Department officials for comment went unanswered this week, as the government was closed due to the snowstorms.)

Dovid Katz, a professor of Yiddish at Vilnius University in Lithuania, said, "This is a plague over the entire anti-Soviet, anti-Russian part of Eastern Europe, this adoration of fascists and racists. It's an ultranationalism that is anti-Russian and anti-Semitic, that is a social illness." Katz said that in Lithuania, for example, the government has been moving to prosecute only Jews among surviving veterans of the anti-Nazi Soviet partisans for alleged 'war crimes' against Lithuania—but they have yet to punish a single Nazi collaborator, despite the mass extermination of Jews by the Lithuanian units that enthusiastically carried out most of the killing.

The dirty little secret about Yushchenko all along has been his close relationship with ultranationalist elements in western Ukraine. His "Our Ukraine" coalition includes some ultranationalist groups, and Yushchenko was on the board of MAUP, the controversial private university in Kiev. MAUP was nailed which produced nearly all of Ukraine's anti-Semitic print material, and which counted former KKK leader David Duke as one of its favorite visiting scholars. Yushchenko finally resigned from his university board seat in 2005, after a three-year campaign waged by Jewish leaders both in Ukraine and in Washington. (A full account of this sordid episode is covered in a recent Moment magazine feature, "The Mysterious Tale of a Ukrainian University's Anti-Semitic Crusade.")

In his last year and a half in office, not only has Ukraine collapsed economically and politically, lurching from bad crises to worse crises, but by adopting a belligerent, erratic posture over the past year and a half, Yushchenko has poisoned Ukraine's well for years to come. In 2008, when Russia and Georgia fought a brief war over South Ossetia, Yushchenko tried dragging his divided country into the conflict, by declaring solidarity with Georgia and threatening Russian warships stationed in the Crimea. Then he whipped up fear about an imminent Russian invasion of Crimea and sold it to gullible Western journalists and officials, who duly panicked, because after all, he was "our guy"—pro-Western, pro-American. After poisoning relations with Russia, Yushchenko set a new low in domestic politics by accusing his rival and former Orange Revolution cohort Yulia Tymoshenko of "high treason" and plotting with the Kremlin to hand over Ukraine. His demagoguery failed: Ukraine's voters threw him out at the first chance, while Tymoshenko, who dropped the confrontational anti-Russian grandstanding, barely lost in the second round.

Neocons loved Yushchenko's late incarnation but his own people despised him. Even Burston-Marsteller CEO and former Hillary Clinton campaign strategist Mark Penn, who served as one of Yushchenko's campaign advisors, couldn't boost Yushchenko beyond the 5 percent barrier and rescue him from his own self-destruction.

And to think we were going to plunge into a new cold war with Russia on behalf of Yushchenko and Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia—who recently announced that he was imposing mandatory patriotic-military classes to be taught in schools across Georgia, something not seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

"Yushchenko has been a great disappointment for his supporters," said Rabbi Andrew Baker, director of international affairs at the American Jewish Committee. "We really thought a decade ago that this sort of ultra-nationalism would be disappearing by now. We thought it was [a temporary] thing. We were wrong."

Friday, February 12, 2010

Yanukovych Is Back

Why his victory may actually be good news for Ukraine.

By Owen Matthews | Newsweek Web Exclusive
Feb 10, 2010

Bad news first: Viktor Yanukovych, the winner of last Sunday’s presidential election in Ukraine, is a notoriously inarticulate twice-convicted felon who is backed by a clique of powerful businessmen with alleged mafia ties. He's also the candidate backed by Moscow in the 2004 presidential election, annulled after Ukraine's Supreme Court found the Yanukovych campaign guilty of massive vote-rigging.

Yet Yanukovych's victory may actually be good news for Ukraine. For starters, he would have to try hard to do worse than his predecessor, Viktor Yushchenko, under whose rule Ukraine's economy shrank by 15 percent. Yushchenko spent much of his presidential term feuding with former allies like Yulia Tymoshenko, the loser of Sunday's presidential vote. Worse, in his last months in office, Yushchenko splurged on a series of populist spending promises—including a 20 percent hike in pensions—that pumped Ukraine's budget deficit to 4 percent of GDP. As a result, the IMF suspended a badly needed bailout package until after the election. Yanukovych at least warned voters that austerity was coming and has a decent chance of getting the IMF money flowing again.

But perhaps just as important as basic economic competence is the fact that Yanukovych will certainly have better relations with Russia.

Cold Warriors may wring their hands at the prospect of increased Russian influence, but from the point of view of Ukraine itself, that is a good thing. From the 2004 Orange Revolution onward, Yushchenko seemed to take perverse pleasure in jerking Moscow's chain. He declared the man-made famines of 1930–32, which killed millions of Ukrainians, a genocide perpetrated by the Russians, and sent negotiators to talks with Gazprom who insisted on speaking to their Russian counterparts through a Russian-Ukrainian interpreter, though the two languages are easily mutually comprehensible. In the aftermath of the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia, tensions ran so high that the Ukrainian Security Service began preparing for a possible Russian invasion of the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea.

Irritating Moscow may have played well with a hard core of Ukrainian nationalists concentrated in the west of the country, but it did Ukraine as a whole no good at all. The gas cutoffs of 2006 and 2007 that followed Ukraine's failures to pay for its gas supplies (and badly damaged its reputation as a secure transit country) are just the most obvious examples. Endless tension with Russia increased the political risk for foreign investors and depressed the economy.

That in turn meant that Ukraine failed dismally to diversify away from rust-belt Soviet industries like steel and aluminum production, which it badly needs to do if it's to have any hope of real economic recovery.

Making nice with Moscow is certainly no panacea for Ukraine's ills.

But by putting an end to Yushchenko's talk of joining NATO, Yanukovych will remove a major irritant in Moscow-Kiev relations. More, you can be sure that many NATO members themselves are breathing a sly sigh of relief at Yanukovych's victory. Ukraine's aspiration to join NATO was warmly backed by the Bush administration but by few others. Indeed, by 2009 almost all members, other than the former Soviet-bloc states like Poland, were lobbying hard against it as a pointless obstacle to normalizing relations with Russia. The reality was that even at the height of Yushchenko's popularity, membership in NATO was never supported by more than a third of Ukraine's population anyway. In canning NATO, Yanukovych isn't so much caving to Russian pressure as acknowledging the deep and long standing ambivalence of ordinary Ukrainians to joining the club.

The European Union, on the other hand, is a different matter. Russia has expressed no strong opposition to Ukraine's pro-European noises—unlike its hysterical anti-NATO position—and even the beginnings of a serious attempt to become an official candidate for the EU would do wonders for Ukraine's credit rating and investment prospects. All candidates in Ukraine's presidential election, including Yanukovych, claimed to be in favor of joining the EU—an important indicator of the country's general direction. And the EU still stands willing and ready to engage on issues like fiscal discipline, corporate governance, and all the nuts and bolts of a functional state.

But right now the likelihood of EU membership is still vanishingly remote—while the likelihood of a full-scale economic collapse is very real and immediate. Reversing Ukraine's steep fiscal nosedive before the country defaults on its debts is Yanukovych's most urgent problem. He may even turn to Moscow to cover some of the expected $37 billion shortfall. But the point is that before Ukraine can seriously aspire to fly, it has to patch up the gaping holes in its airframe. Yanukovych may well be in a better position to do that than anyone else in Ukrainian politics—if only because he's not burdened with an adversarial relationship with Russia.

After the disasters of the Yushchenko period, the bar for successful governance in Kiev has been set pretty low. His criminal record and shady backers aside, if Yanukovych shows just basic competence at running Ukraine's government, he will already be doing better than his predecessors. By this point most Ukrainian voters are almost past caring who governs them—as long as someone does without risking war with Russia, economic collapse, or losing heat in midwinter.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ukraine PM Yulia Tymoshenko resists calls to concede presidential election and resign

By Simon Shuster, The Associated Press

KYIV, Ukraine - Ukraine's embattled Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko appeared in public for the first time in days Thursday but still resisted calls to concede defeat in the presidential election and resign her post.

Tymoshenko, looking tense but determined, appeared before the media for the first time since Sunday's election to chair a government meeting. She did not comment on the elections directly but took a swipe at the pro-Russian opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych, who defeated her by a margin of 3.5 percentage points, according to the final preliminary vote count.

Her refusal to admit defeat signals that Tymoshenko is digging in for a long power struggle with Yanukovych.

"It is already obvious today that nobody from Yanukovych's team has any intention of raising social standards," Tymoshenko told the government meeting. "Already, after the election, we are starting to discover huge pre-election deceptions and people should factor that into their future political calculations."

Yanukovych's victory was a repudiation of the 2004 Orange Revolution, when Tymoshenko and the outgoing President Viktor Yushchenko led weeks of mass demonstrations against the rigged election won by Yanukovych.

The Supreme Court eventually ordered a revote, which Yushchenko won, unseating Yanukovych and pushing him into the opposition.

But Yanukovych has capitalized on the vicious antagonism between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko that ensued soon after they took power. Their bickering has often paralyzed the government over the past five years and prevented the Orange leaders from staving off an economic collapse last year.

Yanukovych's Party of Regions is now attempting to form a new coalition in parliament.

Thousands of his supporters continued to rally outside the Central Election Commission on Thursday in an attempt to forestall any attempt by Tymoshenko to call her own supporters into the streets. It is not clear that many would follow that call by Tymoshenko.

"I came to the (2004) demonstrations. But that won't happen again," Stanislav Krasnov, a 52-year-old security guard, told The Associated Press. "No one will come out onto the streets for her now. She'd be standing here by herself."

Analysts say Tymoshenko's strategy now appears aimed at undermining Yanukovych's attempts to consolidate power and enact legislation.


Associated Press Writers Peter Leonard and Yuras Karmanau contributed to this report.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Opposition's Yanukovich claims win in Ukraine poll

By Pavel Polityuk and Matt Robinso

KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine's opposition leader Viktor Yanukovich headed for a slender victory on Monday in a bitterly contested presidential election but rival Yulia Tymoshenko refused to concede.

Yanukovich, 59, a beefy ex-mechanic who wants better ties with Moscow, claimed victory and called on Tymoshenko, 49, to resign as prime minister.

With almost 80 percent of votes counted, election officials gave Yanukovich 48.78 percent and Tymoshenko 45.56 percent. But Tymoshenko's camp offered a "parallel count" that saw her edging out her rival.

The official results appeared to cap a remarkable comeback for the rough-hewn Yanukovich, cast as the villain of the 2004 Orange Revolution when street protests overturned results that initially gave him victory in an election tainted by fraud.

The outcome could also see the country of 46 million people tilt back toward former Soviet master Russia after five years of bitter infighting and a sliding economy turned Orange euphoria into frustration and disappointment.

Both candidates pledged integration with Europe while improving ties with Moscow, but Tymoshenko is seen as more pro-Western. Yanukovich is unlikely to pursue membership of NATO, an 'Orange' goal that infuriated neighboring Russia.

Accusing Yanukovich of cheating, Tymoshenko's team said they had counted 85 percent of votes and that she was leading by 0.8 percent, presaging a possible messy legal challenge.

Each side accused the other of fraud, but Tymoshenko stopped short of repeating a threat she made last week to call people out onto the streets if she believed the election was unfair.

"I think that Yulia Tymoshenko should prepare to resign. She understands that well," Yanukovich said in a television interview. Exit polls put him three to four points ahead.

Tymoshenko was the co-architect of the 2004 revolution with pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko, but their relationship quickly soured.

Looking stern before reporters, the fiery former gas tycoon urged her team to "fight for every result, every document, every vote." The tone was moderate, and analysts said they doubted Tymoshenko could stage a repeat of 2004.


Legal challenges and street protests would further delay Ukraine's chances of repaying more than $100 billion of foreign debt and nursing its sickly economy back to health after a 15 percent collapse last year.

In Russia, the source of the gas which flows through Ukraine's pipeline network to the West, the election was closely watched but state-controlled media avoided taking sides.

Sunday's vote, conducted in freezing temperatures and snow, appeared to reflect widespread disillusion among Ukrainians that the Orange Revolution failed to deliver prosperity or stability.

Yushchenko came a humiliating fifth in the first round of the election in January.

The $120 billion economy has been battered by a decline in the value of Ukraine's steel and chemicals exports that has hammered the hryvnia currency, slashed budget revenues and undermined the domestic banking system.

Voters were unenthusiastic about either candidate but seemed to feel Yanukovich, a former premier who stressed the fight against poverty, had the best chance of restoring order.

"We lost five years of our lives thanks to Yushchenko and Tymoshenko," said Oleg Nochvyn, a miner in his 50s in the eastern region of Donetsk.

"For five years they were promising us -- tomorrow will be better. Well, I get up the next day and it's worse than the day before ... Under Viktor Fyodorovich (Yanukovich) we had everything -- economic growth, everything was getting better."

Regardless of the outcome, squabbling was set to continue, reflecting the country's broader divisions. Ukraine is divided almost equally between a Russian-leaning east and south and a Western-friendly center and west.

Assuming Yanukovich's victory is confirmed, Tymoshenko can expect in any case to be ousted as prime minister by a vote of no confidence in parliament.

Yanukovich will then try to form a new coalition to get his own ally into the role, or call a snap parliamentary election.

(Additional reporting by Dmitry Solovyov, Sabina Zawadzki, Yuri Kulikov and Natasha Zinets in Kiev and Lina Kushch in Donetsk; Writing by Michael Stott and Matt Robinson; Editing by Jon Hemming)

Friday, February 5, 2010

Ukraine's shift east leaves Poles, Czechs alone in fear of Russia

Ukraine, February 5, 2010

The outcome of Sunday's Ukrainian run-off vote will likely improve ties between Moscow and Kiev, leaving Poland and the Czech Republic isolated in their fear of Russia. Germany holds the key to easing those concerns.

It has become an annual tradition in Europe. Each winter since 2006, Russia has turned off natural gas supplies to Ukraine, which, in turn, has siphoned off gas meant for Western Europe. In each instance, Moscow has blamed the supply cuts on a pricing dispute between Gazprom, the Russian-controlled energy giant, and Ukraine, with Gazprom claiming it is owed millions in unpaid bills. Ukraine has countered that Russia is using energy as a foreign policy tool, to punish Ukraine for aspiring to closer ties with the West.

This year, despite lingering disagreements over pricing, politics might have a hand in bringing this tradition to an end. Last month, Ukrainian voters selected Viktor Yanukovych, a candidate who advocates for closer ties with Russia, to face Yulia Tymoshenko in a run-off election on Sunday. Tymoshenko, a leading figure in Ukraine's Orange Revolution in 2004 - the same revolution that removed Yanukovych from office - and who takes a more cautious view toward Russia, is well behind in the polls.

If Yanukovych wins, Kiev's relations with Russia will be strengthened. This has begun already - last month, Russia resumed diplomatic ties with Ukraine after a five-year lull. Talk about Russian imperial ambitions, common under former president Viktor Yushchenko, will likely cease.

Ukraine's possible shift toward a pro-Russia policy is troubling for Poland and the Czech Republic. Both have pointed to the Ukrainian gas disputes as evidence of Moscow's willingness to use economic resources as a foreign policy tool and of Russia's desire to reestablish its former sphere of influence. Ukraine under Yushchenko was a victim of these ambitions and an ally in lobbying the United States and NATO allies to speak more forcefully against Russia's increasingly strong rhetoric. A Ukraine under Yanukovych, or Tymoshenko, will no longer play this role.

US President Barack Obama has also seemingly abdicated the United States' role of Eastern European champion. During the Bush administration, US policies - from a missile shield based in Poland and the Czech Republic to NATO membership for Ukraine - were cornerstones of transatlantic relations. US officials constantly warned of the dangers of European reliance on Russian energy, most notably when Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matt Bryza said in 2008, "we don't want our European allies in a position to choose between Gazprom and freezing."

The Obama administration, on the other hand, has not shown the same enthusiastic support for Eastern European causes. It has cancelled plans for the missile shield, opting for a smaller missile detachment instead. The White House has also made efforts to mend relations with Russia, yet has made little effort to engage Warsaw or Prague.

Polish and Czech concerns over German-Russian ties

Germany, which cultivated deep ties with Russia during the last 10 years while largely dismissing Eastern European concerns about Moscow's renewed ambitions, continues to strengthen its relationship with Russia. Construction of the Nord Stream pipeline, which links Russian construction crews recently began laying the Nord Stream pipeline. Bildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: Gazprom recently begun construction of the Nord Stream pipeline, which will connect Russian gas directly with Germany. Germany directly with Russian energy, bypassing Poland and the Czech Republic, began last month.

Berlin and Moscow also teamed up to back the failed Magna-Sberbank bid for Opel, which would have saved German jobs while allowing Russia to enter the auto industry. Germany remains Russia's biggest trading partner with 43 billion euros ($60 billion) in bilateral turnover last year. Even with Germany's criticism of human rights violations in Russia, this trend is likely to continue as both emerge from the economic crisis.

"Europe is deeply divided in its approach to Russia," Kurt Volker, who served as US ambassador to NATO from 2008 to 2009 and is now managing director of the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, told Deutsche Welle. "Eastern Europeans want protection in numbers [more countries sharing their view that a resurgent Russia is a threat] while the Germans believe that stance is provocative and that the Russians should be engaged."

"I think Poland and the Czech Republic feel a bit abandoned," Volker continued. "The United States is doing deals with the Russians, Western Europe is doing deals with the Russians. Transatlantic relations are changing."

Part of the Problem

Volker argues that both Poland and the Czech Republic are contributing to their isolation by mismanagement of internal affairs that make the countries appear to be at best, disorganized; at worst, chaotic; and intent on keeping old grudges with Germany alive.

For instance, the controversy in the Czech Republic over the Lisbon Treaty did not portray Prague in a positive light to the international community. For years President Vaclav Klaus, an outspoken skeptic of the European Union, argued against the country's ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, even though members of his own government publicly Czech Republic's President Vaclav Klaus briefs the press after signing the Lisbon Treaty. Bildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: Czech Republic's President Vaclav Klaus briefs the press after signing the Lisbon Treaty called for its acceptance.

Poland has dealt with similar embarrassing internal political incidents. In recent years, Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his brother and former Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, have made a number of provocative statements about Moscow's intentions to recapture Cold War territory.

Political parties have struggled to form lasting, effective coalitions, and government inaction has resulted in voter apathy. Warsaw has also stirred tensions with Germany over the appointment of Erika Steinbach as head of the planned Center for Expulsion, which is expected to document Germans expelled from other countries after World War II.

"It's been messy," Damon Wilson, director of the International Security Program at the Atlantic Council, told Deutsche Welle. "There hasn't been a lot of political stability or clarity."

The financial crisis has also hit both of these countries hard. The Polish unemployment rate was nearly 12 percent at the end of last year, while nearly 10 percent of Czech workers were unemployed. Both countries risk economic isolation if they refuse to increase ties with Russia, which established itself as an economic force in the last decade.

Meanwhile, Russia thrives

Poland and the Czech Republic's political instability and fragile economic growth have occurred during a period of dramatic growth and political stability in Russia. Since 2000, Russia's gross domestic product has increased from 782 billion euros to 1.5 trillion euros in 2009. This growth has been anchored by former president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who, along with his handpicked successor Dmitry Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Premier Vladimir Putin speak in Sochi last summer. Bildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, right, and Premier Vladimir Putin enjoy a stranglehold on power Medvedev, enjoy a stranglehold on power and enormous popularity. They have prompted a swell of national pride in Russia.

Putin's rise was accompanied by some unfriendly rhetoric toward former Soviet Bloc states, including discussions about restoring Russian power in Eastern Europe. The Russian war with Georgia in 2008, roundly criticized by the international community, served notice that Moscow would use military force to protect Russian interests in the region.

Unifying Europe and moving forward

According to Volker, European divisiveness over Russia needs to be resolved if the EU economies are to continue rebounding. Ties with Russia are inevitable, he said, but Western European nations should also acknowledge Polish and Czech concerns.

"German interests can be built without sacrificing European interests," he said. "Europe needs to have a common approach where everyone's interests are recognized."

Germany, as Europe's leading economy with the closest ties to Russia, has an especially important role to play, added the Atlantic Council's Wilson. First, he said the Germans should lobby the European Union to better connect Eastern Europe's energy grid with the west, easing Polish and Czech concerns over shortages if Russia cuts supplies to the east. "Germany should show as much activity in promoting interconnectedness with the east as it does with Russia and Nord Stream," he said.

The second step is for Germany to continue consultations with Warsaw and Prague. Wilson commended German Chancellor Angela Merkel for her outreach to both, but said other European Union countries should do the same.

Lastly, Wilson said Poland and the Czech Republic need to be assured of their importance in the EU and NATO.

"What's missing is an underlying sense of solidarity," he said. "This isn't satisfied through an interconnected energy grid. The European Union needs to take their concerns seriously. NATO needs to be a credible actor. Polish and Czech concerns needs to be acknowledged as important and real and need to be taken into account."

Author: David Francis
Editor: Rob Mudge,,5174041,00.html

Bucks Populi: Making Democracy a Going Concern in Kiev

Rent-a-Crowd Entrepreneurs Find People Fast to Cheer or Jeer for $4 an Hour

KIEV, Ukraine—Want to ensure a bigger draw for your lackluster candidate? In Ukraine, just contact Vladimir Boyko and he'll rent you a crowd.

Mr. Boyko says his company, Easy Work, has assembled a database of several thousand students and can mobilize them on a day's notice to turn up at demonstrations anywhere in Kiev, stand for hours at a time, and cheer or jeer on cue.

"We'll do business with any political party. Ideology doesn't matter to us," says the 21-year-old Web-design major at Kiev Polytechnic Institute. "It matters even less to most students," he adds, grinning. "They have become tired of politicians. They will rally only for money."

Easy Work's emergence last summer, described by Mr. Boyko and co-owner Matvey Dyadkov, casts light on a secretive industry of crowd brokers in this former Soviet republic. Those apolitical operatives take cash from candidates' parties and hire students, pensioners and others at roughly $4 an hour to bulk up the candidates' rallies.

The rent-a-crowd business, though not illegal, is taboo in Ukraine. Politicians deny using it, and many people in the business prefer the benign Russian term sobrat tolpu, which means to gather a crowd. But it has prospered amid disillusionment with the Orange Revolution, the massive peaceful uprising that overturned a tainted 2004 election result and ushered in the country's pro-Western leadership.

Dimmed by economic malaise and legislative deadlock, Orange fervor has given way to a mercenary form of activism. Mr. Boyko, a gangly snowboarding techie who took part in the 2004 protests as a high-school senior, has keenly observed the shift and, as Ukraine holds a presidential runoff vote Sunday, is moving to cash in on it.

"If you place an order for a rally, you can have it the next day," he says.

The demand for crowds could soon surge. Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko vowed Thursday to "rally the people" in a replay of the Orange Revolution if runoff rival Viktor Yanukovych steals the vote. She spoke after his party pushed through an election-law change to allow vote counting at polling places without the supervision of both candidates' delegates.

Mr. Yanukovych, who dismissed Ms. Tymoshenko's statement as a "sign of weakness," is readying to gather demonstrators to back him in any dispute over Sunday's returns.

Both parties deny they have paid people to rally or plan to do so. But several students say that they and many of their classmates have pocketed cash from both camps after hopping from one rally to another.

Orange protest veterans decry the business, saying it undermines the country's young democracy. Leaders of independent civic groups, which had begun to blossom in 2004, say they find it harder now to attract volunteers for their causes.

"This is part of a more complex problem of corruption at all levels in Ukraine," says Oleksandr Chernenko, chairman of the independent Committee of Voters of Ukraine, an election-monitoring group. "As long as the politicians offer money, people will take it."

Ukraine seemed different half a decade ago when Mr. Boyko and other Orange protesters stood in Kiev's snowy streets night and day, for no compensation, and prevailed.

By the time Mr. Boyko was a freshman in college, however, the country's new leaders were feuding, breaking promises and losing respect. Notices popped up on campus bulletin boards, a marketplace for the city's 600,000 university and trade-school students: Candidates for Parliament, desperate for crowds that would play well on TV, were offering 100 hryvnia, about $12, to attend a three-hour rally.

Messrs. Boyko and Dyadkov, classmates at Kiev Polytechnic, watched the market develop as Ukraine lurched through a series of political crises and elections. Mr. Dyadkov, who had been in high school in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol and missed the Orange Revolution, was drawn into its messy aftermath.

The market, the two men say, came to resemble a pyramid that's supposed to work roughly like this: A political party contacts several crowd brokers capable of mobilizing and paying 1,000 students apiece. Each of those brokers, said to number 15 in Kiev, has a network; he or she contacts 10 acquaintances each of whom contacts 10 more, and so on.

Each broker in the pyramid, many of them students, is supposed to pay off those below, typically after taking a 10% cut. Lapses and thievery abound. After one rally, Mr. Dyadkov recalls, a classmate was besieged after failing to secure and deliver payoffs for several hundred angry residents of his dorm. "I knew there must be a better way," Mr. Dyadkov says.

A supporter of Ukrainian presidential candidate and head of the Regions party Viktor Yanukovych maintains a vigil in front of the Central Election Commission in Kiev.

A plan came together last summer: Easy Work was formed to compete with the chains of brokers, pitching itself as a reliable one-stop intermediary. Instead of phone calls and text messages, traditional means of pyramid recruiting, the tech students used In Contact, a Russian-language social networking site, to build a students-for-hire membership list.

With Mr. Boyko working from his parents' home and Mr. Dyadkov from his crowded dorm room, they created a Web site,, where members can log in with 15-digit codes, view a list of rallies and click to take part. Only members can bring in newcomers after judging them to be reliable.

Easy Work instructs its hired activists to follow rules: If you register for a rally, show up on time and don't leave until it's over. No boozing. No fighting. Smile for the cameras and applaud the candidate. Don't talk to reporters; they might figure out you came for the money.

The co-founders tested their system with two modest political rallies late in the year and concluded that it works. "Students know they can come to us and we'll pay them," Mr. Boyko says. "And the parties know we can deliver a crowd. Everyone goes away happy."

His claim is hard to judge. He won't disclose Easy Work's membership list, payment records, profit, or details of past and pending operations. Two students who signed up for a rally through Easy Work last year confirmed they took part, along with a few hundred others, and were well paid.

Mr. Boyko says the secrecy is necessary to shield members and clients from embarrassment. But he insists his aims are altruistic.

"In principle, we have nothing to hide," he says. "We don't sell votes. We don't get involved in the darker side of politics. Mainly what we do is run an honest, responsible business and give people work."

Mr. Dyadkov added: "As entrepreneurs, we want to earn money. On the other hand, as citizens, we hope this business will fade away. For now, people see the same old politicians and hear the same old ideas. If someone fresh brings a new idea, people will come out and listen for free."

Both Ukrainian presidential hopefuls plan protests

Yanukovych won handily in the first round of voting last month, 35 percent to 25 percent. Tymoshenko is expected to close at least some of the gap by picking up votes splintered among candidates in the first round.

Political observers say that Tymoshenko isn't likely to concede the race easily.

"Regardless of what the gap between them is - one and a half percent or 10 percent - she will not accept defeat," said Mikhail Pogribinsky, director of the Kiev Center of Political Research and Conflict Studies. "Then we will enter a new era of instability until a broad agreement is reached between the winner and the loser."

Both candidates have strong geographic constituencies. Tymoshenko is popular in western Ukraine, while Yanukovych is the standard-bearer for the east, center of the country's large ethnic Russian minority.

"There remains a deep rift right along the Dnepr River - the southeast versus the northwest," said Sergei Markov, a Russian lawmaker and election monitor, referring to the river that runs through Kiev.

"The new president will need to mend these two camps in order to become not just the president of western Ukraine but all of Ukraine," he said.

As opposing parties trade increasingly bitter accusations, Yushchenko expressed concern that Ukraine's democracy was eroding.

"With every passing day, the situation is becoming ever more intolerable. Unfortunately, we are moving away from European democratic norms," Yushchenko said Friday in an unscheduled government meeting attended by top security officials.

Ukraine's acting interior minister, a Tymoshenko loyalist, said Friday that about 2,000 former police and security guards have arrived in Kiev to serve as muscle for Yanukovych. Acting Minister Yury Lutsenko said the massing of so many security veterans raises concerns about election unrest.

Yanukovych's spokesman declined to comment on Lutsenko's statement.

The campaigns of both candidates were to culminate Friday evening in rallies at two separate Kiev squares one block apart. Both were expected to draw thousands of supporters, raising fears of clashes.

Each camp has accused the other of planning to steal or disrupt the election.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Ukraine's Smear Campaign

Lviv, Ukraine | February 03, 2010

As the two candidates in Ukraine's presidential runoff escalate an acrimonious war of words, the campaign is showing an even uglier side on the streets. In this western Ukrainian stronghold of support for the Orange Revolution five years ago, circulating leaflets carry a photo of its heroine, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, under the words "Don't Vote for That Jew!" The leaflet includes an alleged facsimile of Tymoshenko's handwriting that purports to reveal her background as Jewish and Russian and asks how Tymoshenko can call herself Ukrainian.

Another leaflet purports to be a copy of a letter from Tymoshenko's erstwhile Orange Revolution ally, President Viktor Yushchenko, in which he calls on Ukrainians to vote for Tymoshenko's rival, pro-Moscow Viktor Yanukovych.

Although it's not clear who's behind the smears, the leaflets are helping fuel an atmosphere of bitter cynicism ahead of the election. Although many voters here say they'll cast their ballots for Tymoshenko only as the lesser of two evils, some say they'll abstain from voting altogether. Residents say they're disillusioned by the Orange camp's broken promises to clean up rampant corruption and reform the economy. Piles of unplowed snow snarling traffic along the streets of this faded baroque and predominantly Catholic city are blamed on corrupt politicians' absconding with municipal funds.

But the authorities in Lviv have beefed up a contingent of security service officers guarding a statue of Ukrainian nationalist hero Stepan Bandera, reviled as a Nazi collaborator by many in predominantly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine. Rumors that members of Yanukovych's Party of Regions plan to blow up the statue are competing with others that it's Tymoshenko supporters who want to destroy it to blame the crime on their opponents.

During a campaign stop in his native town of Yenakiyevo in eastern Ukraine on January 2, Yanukovych pledged he would fire Tymoshenko and her government in short order if elected.

Each side is accusing the other of preparing to falsify the elections, raising fears neither will accept February 7's results.

-- Gregory Feifer, reporting from Lviv

UPDATE -- RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service reports that in the eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk, a Yanukovych stronghold, leaflets are circulating with calls for an election boycott.

The leaflets claim to be from the Communist Party and Natalia Vitrenko, the leader of the pro-Russian Progressive Socialist Party. But Vitrenko claims that the Tymoshenko camp is behind the fliers, which she called a “provocation.” She told RFE/RL that her own vote it going to Yanukovych.

The Tymoshenko campaign has rejected the accusations, and Tymoshenko Bloc parliament deputy Andriy Shevchenko said that both the Communist Party and Vitrenko's party have been closely aligned with Yanukovych's Regions Party for several years.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Ukraine's Yanukovych shuns TV face-off with rival

Ukraine's Victor Yanukovich, the frontrunner in a runoff vote for president on Feb. 7, declined on Monday to take part in a television debate with his rival Yulia Tymoshenko, calling her election pledges "dirt and evil".

Aggressive pro-Tymoshenko advertisements have been flagging a possible TV face-to-face between the two rivals, scheduled forFeb. 1evening, saying: "The one who wins these debates, will be Ukraine's next president."

But Yanukovych, a 59-year-old ex-mechanic, who often stumbles over his words and prefers scripted set-pieces to project himself, declined to accept the challenge from Prime Minister Tymoshenko, a voluble public performer.

Tymoshenko, 49, had earlier called him "a marionette of the mafia", referring to the powerful oligarchs backing his campaign.

"Notwithstanding these torrents of dirt and evil poured by Tymoshenko, I will not use her methods of struggle," Yanukovych said in an address to voters.

"I believe that concrete deeds and the word that one that one gives is more important than sweet and pleasing phrases. This is why I deem it indecent to be dragged into empty talk and compete in lies in the run-up to the election."

Tymoshenko, presented now with the opportunity of making a one-sided political broadcast opposite an empty chair, confirmed on her Web site that she herself would be there.

The fiery Tymoshenko, who led 2004 "Orange revolution" street protests sparked by a rigged election in which Yanukovych denied victory, has also sought to exploit her rival's two jail terms for theft and assault as a young man.

Yanukovych won the first round of the election with 35.32 percent of votes, just over 10 percent ahead of Tymoshenko.

The beefy Yanukovych, who usually shrugs off his opponent's barbed remarks with a smile, has tried to polish up an image of a responsible politician ready to be held to account for his actions.

He said late last month that if Tymoshenko would not be held responsible for her actions "her place must be in the kitchen".

Yanukovych enjoys strong support in his native eastern Ukraine and the south, while Tymoshenko's power base lies in the nationalist west and in central regions.

Both candidates speak in favour of closer ties with Europe and building pragmatic relations with giant neighbour Russia -- the source of most of Ukraine's energy imports. Both paint an equally apocalyptical future in the event of them losing on Feb. 7.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Ukrainian actor Bohdan Stupka grabs Russian Golden Eagle Award

KYIV, February 1 /UKRINFORM/

Ukrainian Bohdan Stupka has become the Best Actor of the Year 2009 and has been awarded the Golden Eagle for his excellent rendition of Taras Bulba in the movie of the same name based on Nikolai Gogol's classic story.

The Golden Eagle movie awards ceremony was staged at the Mosfilm studio.

'This is already my second Golden Eagle, and I'm waiting for the third," the actor said.

Established in 2002, the Golden Eagle Award is run by the National Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science of Russia.

Ukraine headed back to the future

AS Ukraine's presidential election enters its final week of campaigning, the only orange glow appears to emanate from the fading prospects of Yuliya Tymoshenko. Unless she makes a dramatic breakthrough in the next few days, her arch rival, Viktor Yanukovych, looks assured of victory. That would represent an astonishing comeback for a man whose Kremlin-sanctioned ballot-rigging in the 2004 election provided the catalyst for the Orange Revolution led by Tymoshenko and her former ally, Viktor Yushchenko.

Yushchenko's crushing defeat in the first round ended his hopes of a second term as president. Tymoshenko, the Prime Minister, seems unable to rally the anti-Yanukovych vote sufficiently to make up a 10 percentage-point deficit on her rival. A majority of Ukrainians appears resigned to going back to the future with a Yanukovych presidency.

This is puzzling to anyone dazzled by the evident charisma of the candidate and the appeal of her message of pro-western reform. All the more so in comparison to Yanukovych, who would make a block of wood appear animated and who struggles to formulate his ideas in public. But "Yuliya fatigue" appears to have set in as a result of what one senior Ukrainian official described as "a serious disconnect between her rhetoric and her actions".

While Tymoshenko is viewed as appealing but unreliable, Yanukovych comes across as unappealing but reliable. Those around Yanukovych stress that he is a different man from the Soviet-style apparatchik of five years ago. They argue that he will govern from the centre and work hard to strengthen ties with the EU.

Whichever candidate emerges victorious next Sunday, however, the big winner is the Kremlin. Both Tymoshenko and Yanukovych have pledged more pragmatic and constructive relations after the years of friction under Yushchenko.

The Times

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PM Accuses Rival

Sun Jan 31, 10:26 am ET

KIEV (AFP) – Ukraine's Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko on Sunday accused her pro-Russian rival in next week's presidential poll run-off, Viktor Yanukovich, of preparing to take power by force.

She said Yanukovich, the favourite to win the February 7 poll, was massing supporters around the capital Kiev and preparing to use "any means" to take power.

"The electoral commission acts like everything is fine, (but) in the polling stations there are falsifications," Tymoshenko said in the transcript of an interview with a Ukrainian television station made available on the government website.

"And around Kiev, all the holiday centres are full of fighters who are ready to take power using any means," the prime minister added.

"We remember all that from 2004. Yanukovich hasn't changed, his methods haven't changed, and his policies haven't changed," Tymoshenko is quoted as saying.

Mass rigging blamed on Yanukovich supporters and resulting protests which brought hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians onto the streets in the Orange Revolution forced the annullment of the 2004 presidential polls.

"As in 2004, we are going to put (Yanukovich) in his place in a severe manner and he will never get power in Ukraine, whatever the circumstances," said Tymoshenko, who was one of the leaders of the Orange Revolution.

Yanukovich led Tymoshenko by 10 percentage points in the first round.

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