Community News

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Ukraine, Russia jointly to celebrate VE-Day 65th anniversary

KIEV, April 28 (Itar-Tass) - Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich has signed a decree on ceremonies to mark, together with Russia, the 65th anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945.

The presidential press service announced that Yanukovich agreed Tuesday with the proposal made by the Defence Ministry to detail 75 servicemen from among the Armed Forces of Ukraine within a period from April 29 to May 11, for them to participate in the military parade in Moscow.

The presidential decision has it that the government must make arrangements and ensure the servicemen's participation in those ceremonies.

The President of Ukraine also signed a similar decree concerning the participation of Ukrainian soldiers in a military parade in Minsk.

Polarizing Politics in Ukraine

WASHINGTON — The agreement signed last week between Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev in which Ukraine will receive cheaper gas in exchange for extending Russia’s Black Sea Fleet presence in Crimea through at least 2042 has set off a firestorm of criticism. The rapid ratification of the agreement within five days of its signing by the Ukrainian parliament (known as the Verkhovna Rada and in which Yanukovych’s coalition has a majority) will only stoke the opposition. For a deal of such consequence and implications, it was irresponsible of the Rada to have taken up the issue so quickly, without proper review, especially given the agreement’s lack of transparency. There are far more questions than answers about the deal at this point, but most disturbing is the divisive impact it already is having on the Ukrainian polity. This was on display for all to see in the Rada Tuesday as fights broke out, smoke bombs were set off, and eggs were hurled at the rostrum. Ukrainian politics have been known to be raucous, but this far surpassed anything in the recent past.

To make matters worse, Yanukovych on Tuesday rejected the notion that the 1932-33 famine in Ukraine was “an act of genocide against one nation.” One can debate the Holodomor, as the famine is known, but Yanukovych’s answer is like pouring oil on an already simmering fire in Ukraine’s polarized politics.

In defending the gas deal, Yanukvoych and his team argue that Ukraine will save between $3-4 billion per year on gas. They claim, with some justification, that gas deals negotiated by previous Ukrainian governments left Ukraine broke and at a disadvantage vis-à-vis Russia. Indeed, Ukraine was paying as much as $330 per thousand cubic meters but will pay closer to $230 under the new agreement. However, the gas deal also raises a series of fundamental questions. As energy expert Ed Chow noted last week in the Kyiv Post, “There is no price discount, but a normal price that Ukraine should have been able to negotiate without undue concessions.” Who will benefit from this lowered price? Will it be the country as a whole or favored oligarchs and industries or, worse yet, shady intermediaries? Was striking a long-term gas deal essential to Ukraine’s efforts to reach a new agreement with the IMF for some $12 billion in Special Drawing Rights? These would have been good questions for the Rada to have asked before ratifying the agreement.

In exchange for lowering the price, Russia received an extension on its Black Sea Fleet presence at Sevastopol, which currently expires in 2017. The country’s constitution forbids the presence of foreign forces on Ukrainian soil (with an exception made for the Black Sea Fleet until 2017. This new agreement will prompt additional challenges in the Constitutional Court, though the opposition shouldn’t hold its breath that it will prevail there given that court’s earlier questionable ruling on the formation of the new governing coalition. It will also boost Russia’s sense that it is recovering its standing in the region, and already Russia’s ambassador to NATO has crowed that the deal spells the end of any prospects of Ukraine’s membership in NATO (not that those were great any time soon anyway). This, in turn, will reinforce the zero-sum thinking in Moscow that some wishful supporters of the Obama administration’s reset policy with Russia had hoped was subsiding.

It is true that the Black Sea Fleet by 2017, to say nothing of several decades from now under the new deal’s extension, may look more like a coral reef than an imposing military presence (though that could change should Russia acquire the French warship Mistral). But the point for revisionist Russian leaders is that under this deal they will retain their tentacles in Ukraine in a fashion that is stirring up divisions inside that country. This is likely to reinforce the impression among many in the West that Ukraine is hopeless, cutting corrupt deals with Moscow, and simply not worth engaging. This, too, is a key Russian goal — for the United States and the European Union to take a hands-off approach to Ukraine.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, when asked about the deal last week, described it as part of Yanukovych’s “balancing act.” The Ukrainian leader, after all, had had a successful visit to Washington a week before, and his deal with Medvedev was seen as a tipping back toward Moscow. Now, the U.S. and EU governments should be pressing Yanukovych for transparency on this deal and disclosure of all that it entails. Of course, the Rada should have demanded that before its premature vote for ratification, but instead it chose to abdicate its responsibilities.

The “balancing act” Clinton referred to — a debatable point to begin with — has quickly turned into an unhealthy tilting toward Russia, producing undesirable rifts in Ukraine that over time could threaten the country’s viability as a truly strong, independent state. Yanukovych must remember that he is president of all Ukraine; he needs to act like a unifying leader, not a divisive one.

David Kramer is a Senior Transatlantic Fellow with the German Marshall Fund in Washington.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Protests as Ukraine backs Russian base extension

By Richard Balmforth Richard Balmforth – Tue Apr 27, 7:43 am ET

KIEV (Reuters) – Opposition lawmakers hurled eggs and smoke bombs inside Ukraine's parliament on Tuesday as the chamber approved an agreement allowing the Russian Navy to extend its stay in a Ukrainian port until 2042.

Crowds of supporters and opponents scuffled outside the parliament building as deputies from newly elected President Viktor Yanukovich's coalition approved a 25-year extension to the Russian Black Sea Fleet's base in Crimea.

"Today will go down as a black page in the history of Ukraine and the Ukrainian parliament," former premier Yulia Tymoshenko, now in opposition, told journalists inside parliament.

The chamber filled with smoke as the smoke bombs were released and Speaker Volodymyr Litvyn took shelter under umbrellas provided by bodyguards as eggs rained down on him. Protesting deputies unfurled Ukrainian flags across the benches.

The protests galvanized various opposition parties against Yanukovich for the first time since he was elected in February and they may yet prove a defining moment in the forming of an united opposition front.

They also highlighted the deep division in the ex-Soviet republic of 46 million. Yanukovich enjoys support mainly from Russian-speakers in the east and south, including Crimea, who lean more toward Moscow.

Ukrainian nationalists from the west and center, led by Tymoshenko and former President Viktor Yushchenko, regard the base as a betrayal of national interests. They wanted to remove it when the existing lease runs out in 2017.

Deputies brawled and the chamber resounded to cries of "impeachment!," "coup!" "betrayal!" as passions ran high.

But, with the air still hazy from the smoke bombs, parliament ratified the lease extension by 236 votes -- 10 more than the minimum required for it to pass -- and then promptly adopted the 2010 state budget which is key for securing $12 billion in credit from the International Monetary Fund.

Parliament bypassed normal procedure and rushed through adoption of the budget without discussion because of the mayhem.


Yanukovich agreed the navy base deal with Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev on April 21 in exchange for a 30 percent cut in the price of Russian gas -- a boon to Kiev's struggling economy.

"There is no alternative to this decision -- because ratification means a lower price for gas and a lower price for gas means the budget," Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said.

"The budget means agreement with the IMF, the possibility of getting investments. It is a program of development for Ukraine in the future."

Tymoshenko, speaking to a rally, said: "We have one slogan: Ukraine is not for sale. We must build a powerful system for the defense of Ukraine."

Former parliament Speaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who also ran for president, called for early parliamentary elections.

Yanukovich, speaking to journalists in Strasbourg where he attended a session of the Council of Europe, dismissed the disturbances, according to Interfax Ukraine news agency, saying: "Nothing unexpected took place in the Ukrainian parliament."

The Kremlin has presented the base deal as a diplomatic coup and Russia's lower house of parliament approved it with 410 of the 450 lawmakers voting for the deal under an hour after the Ukrainian parliament voted.

"The Black Sea fleet acts as a guarantor of security both in the Black Sea and in the Mediterranean Sea," Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said after the two votes.

The Russian fleet has been based in Sevastopol since the reign of Catherine the Great in the 18th century. But, under an accord after Ukraine gained independence following the break-up of the Soviet Union, the fleet would have had to leave in 2017.


Yushchenko, Yanukovich's pro-Western predecessor who favored Ukrainian membership of NATO, pushed hard when he was in office for the fleet to be withdrawn.

But Yanukovich wants to improve ties with Ukraine's former Soviet master. He says the Black Sea fleet does not endanger Ukraine's national interests and enhances European security.

Yanukovich's opponents say he is acting against the constitution. But the constitution is ambiguous, containing two contradictory articles on foreign military bases in the country.

Nina Matviychuk, a 60-year-old pensioner, welcomed the move. "The Russian ships in Sevastopol are in a bad state and need repairing, building. It probably means more money for our factories. It will be work for us," she said in Kiev.

Miroslav, a 48-year-old who did not want to give his surname, thought differently. "We Ukrainian patriots are against gas being reduced for 10 years and Crimea being given away for 25 years. I'd like the price of beer to come down, but so what?"

The Russian fleet in Sevastopol comprises 16,200 servicemen, a rocket cruiser, a large destroyer and about 40 other vessels.

Proponents point out that the Crimea was part of Russia until then-Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gave it to Ukraine in the 1950s. The region retains a Russian-leaning population.

(Additional reporting by Yuri Kulikov and Pavel Polityuk, editing by Michael Stott and Peter Millership)

Ukraine: No genocide by Russia in 'Great Hunger'

STRASBOURG, France (AP) -- In a major turnabout in Ukrainian policy, new President Viktor Yanukovych says the 1930s Stalinist famine that killed millions should not be considered genocide against Ukrainians because it targeted its victims indiscriminately.

Yanukovych told the Council of Europe on Tuesday that he considered the famine "a shared tragedy" of all people who were all part of the Soviet Union, then led by Joseph Stalin.

Yanukovych's stance is a complete shift from that of his predecessor, pro-Western president Viktor Yushchenko, who sought to have the famine recognized as genocide against Ukrainians.

Since being elected in February, Yanukovych has sought closer ties with Russia.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Under-fire Ukraine president defends Russia deal

by Anya Tsukanova Anya Tsukanova – Thu Apr 22, 4:32 pm ET

KIEV (AFP) – President Viktor Yanukovych on Thursday defended a deal to allow a Russian base to stay in Ukraine until 2042 after it was slammed by his opponents as a surrender of national sovereignty.

Yanukovych and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had agreed to extend the lease of the Russian Black Sea Fleet base in Crimea for another 25 years after 2017, in exchange for Kiev receiving a discount of 30 percent on gas imports.

"We have reinforced the certainty about the future of our country. We have launched the basis for coming out of the crisis and starting the economic recovery," Yanukovych said at a news conference a day after signing the deal.

In Moscow, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said while "expensive" for Russia the deal was set to cement ties between Moscow and Kiev after years of bad blood.

"We are talking about a breakthrough in bilateral relations. The main thing here is not the money, not gas and not even the fleet, no matter how important it is for our country, for Ukraine," Putin told a government meeting.

"The main thing is relations between the two peoples, relations of trust towards each other, the realization of common interests and historic purposes, a feeling of fellowship."

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters in Estonia, where she was meeting with her NATO counterparts, that Ukraine's landmark deal was part of a delicate foreign policy "balancing act" for President Viktor Yanukovych.

"I think given Ukraine's history and Ukraine's geographic position, that balancing act is a hard one, but it makes sense to us. That's what he's trying to do and, to keep a foot, if you will, in both sides of his country."

The head of NATO, Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said Ukraine's landmark deal with Russia would have no impact on Ukraine's NATO ambitions. The head of the military alliance told reporters in Estonia that NATO leaders have promised that Ukraine will one day become a member of the world's biggest military alliance if it wants to and meets the criteria.

"This is still the case," he said, "NATO policies have not changed."

Yanukovych said Wednesday Russia's concessions would effectively be worth 40 billion dollars over the next 10 years.

Wednesday's agreement came hours after Putin, seen as Russia's paramount leader, had held unannounced talks in Moscow with his Ukrainian counterpart.

Putin said the new deal would ensure uninterrupted gas supplies to Europe via Ukraine, after a spat in January 2009 led to Russia turning off the taps to Ukraine, leaving many European countries short of gas in the dead of winter.

The surprise agreement, signed in the Ukrainian Russian-speaking city of Kharkiv, was seized on by Yanukovych's opponents as evidence the pro-Kremlin president was selling out Ukrainian interests to Moscow.

His defeated rival in presidential elections, Yulia Tymoshenko, vowed to use all means to annul the agreement in parliament, while the Our Ukraine party of ex-president Viktor Yushchenko called for Yanukovych to be impeached.

"This is a fight for Ukraine. Today we have to decide if Ukraine is a truly independent state or simply a territory with a coat of arms, flag and borders, but without an international voice," added ex-speaker Arseniy Yatseniuk.

Yanukovych said however Ukraine's goal of EU integration and its policy of maintaining an equal balance with East and West remained unchanged after the fleet agreement.

"Our strategic aims are not changing. Ukraine will integrate into the European Union," he said.

"My aim is that in the triangle of EU-Russia-US, Ukraine will find its place and its national interests. We have to find an equilibrium."

In an apparent bid to placate his enraged opponents, Yanukovych refused to rule out the possibility holding a referendum on the Black Sea lease extension, so long as the appropriate laws were passed to hold plebiscites.

The deal marked a dramatic turnaround in Russian-Ukrainian ties after the relationship became so bad under Yanukovych's predecessor, the fiercely pro-Western Yushchenko, that Medvedev refused to do any business with him.

Observers in both countries were astonished by the agreement.

While Ukraine had been expected to receive a gas discount at the summit, no-one had predicted it would be in exchange for the Black Sea Fleet lease extension, let alone for a quarter-century.

"We expected that Yanukovych would make a step towards Russia but we could hardly have imagined that the rapprochement would be so impetuous," said the Ukrainian daily Gazeta po-Kievski.

"Russia has demonstrated that the gas pipeline remains its all-time favourite political weapon," added Russian daily Kommersant.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Ukraine's Fractured Opposition

April 16, 2010

by Taras Kuzio

During the four years between the unveiling of secret tapes made by a presidential guard in November 2000 that implicated President Leonid Kuchma, the speaker of parliament, and the security forces in the abduction and murder of an opposition journalist and the 17-day Orange Revolution four years later, the Ukrainian opposition mobilized, increased in strength, and improved its tactics to go on and defeat the authorities' presidential candidate, then-Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

International monitoring organizations and Western governments had cried foul and refused to accept the legitimacy of Yanukovych's "win" in the second-round runoff. The Supreme Court annulled the results on December 3, 2004, and called for a rerun later that month, which opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko won.

Fast-tracking the clock forward five years after Yushchenko's largely wasted presidency, and the discredited candidate of 2004, Party of Regions leader Yanukovych, is elected in what international organizations describe as a free election. Yushchenko, the hero of the Orange Revolution, comes in fifth with just 5 percent of the vote, far less than the 44 percent received by incumbent President Leonid Kravchuk in 1994. Both Yushchenko and Kravchuk served only one term.

Kuchma, although severely weakened by the 2000 revelations about his role in Heorhiy Gongadze's murder, went on to serve a second term. Concerns about his slide into authoritarianism only surfaced during that second term (1999-2004). In that respect, Kuchma's presidency differed from that of Yanukovych, who in his first two months in office has already raised concerns about his consolidation of power and his willingness to attempt a second time to impose on Ukraine the "Donetsk model," one that closely resembles Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's nexus of business-politics-government.

Within a month after Yanukovych's election as president in February, the new administration was again accused of backsliding on democracy, and the opposition has branded the April 8 Constitutional Court ruling endorsing the manner in which his coalition was formed by factions and individual defectors a "coup d'etat."

Disunited Opposition

Is the opposition capable of again successfully reversing today's drift to authoritarianism, as it did in the Kuchma era?

Probably not, because today it is more divided and weakened than in the first half of the decade. Ukraine's slide into authoritarianism in the Kuchma era, and Yanukovych's attempt to win power through a rigged election in 2004 were both blocked by a strong and largely united opposition that closed ranks behind Yushchenko.

During Kuchma's second term, the opposition was stronger than today, but nevertheless still split. Ukraine's center-right national democrats have collectively never been able to make up their minds whether they wanted to be in opposition or statists (derzhavnyky). Yushchenko himself always wavered between a grand coalition with the Party of Regions or an "Orange" alliance with Yulia Tymoshenko. This indecisiveness led in the 1990s to a weak opposition that was unable to impede the rise of an oligarchic class.

From 2001 to 2003, Yushchenko never felt comfortable in opposition, and if his government had not been removed in April 2001 by a parliamentary vote of no confidence, he would have loyally served Kuchma until the end of his term, perhaps even becoming his chosen successor. It was only after the failed attempt to poison him in September 2004 that Yushchenko and his Our Ukraine party unequivocally embraced a radical opposition stance, vowing to take to the streets if there was election fraud.

Fraying To Right And Left

Key pro-business leaders in Yushchenko's team, nicknamed the "Dear Friends," preferred a grand coalition with the oligarchs and the Kuchma camp to unity with other opposition forces.

Petro Poroshenko, head of Our Ukraine's 2002 election campaign, defected to Yushchenko only after losing the contest for leadership of the newly formed Party of Regions to Mykola Azarov, then head of the Tax Administration and now prime minister. Poroshenko's Solidarity Party was one of five that had merged to form the Party of Regions in 2001.

Another was Kyiv Mayor Leonid Chernovetskyy's Beautiful Ukraine party; Chernovetskyy supported Yanukovych in the 2010 presidential election. Another member of this group is Yuriy Yekhanurov -- Ukraine's answer to Russia's Boris Nemtsov -- who as head of the State Property Fund managed the privatization process that created the oligarchs who emerged in the late 1990s.

Like Poroshenko and former Foreign Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Yekhanurov has always been a staunch opponent of Tymoshenko. After the 2006 elections, Yekhanurov was tasked by Yushchenko with negotiating a grand coalition of Our Ukraine-Party of Regions that was ready to be signed in early June 2006, but fell through.

Ivan Plyushch, although elected in September 2007 as a deputy in Our Ukraine-People's Self Defense (NU-NSO), always refused to join the democratic (Orange) coalition. Plyushch continues to defend the scandalous February 2001 letter (released in the same month that Tymoshenko was arrested on trumped up corruption charges) that he co-signed as parliament speaker with President Kuchma and Prime Minister Yushchenko denouncing the opposition as "fascists."

Yushchenko never defended Tymoshenko while she was in prison, and the Yushchenko national democrats never supported Kuchma's impeachment, unlike Tymoshenko and the Socialists.

Yatsenyuk, leader of the Front for Change party, another virtual center-right party established from the top down in 2008, will unite the so-called Dear Friends in the 2012 parliamentary elections. Yatsenyuk placed fourth in the 2010 election with 7 percent of the vote but, unlike Serhiy Tihipko (who came third with 13 percent), he refused to join the Stability and Reforms coalition and the Azarov government.

Like Our Ukraine, the left were never fully committed to the opposition. The Communist Party (KPU) had joined with oligarchic parliamentary factions to vote no confidence in the Yushchenko government in April 2001. After 2004, the KPU continued its alliance with the oligarchs, joining the 2006-07 Yanukovych and 2010 Azarov coalitions and governments.

In 2003-04, the Socialist Party (SPU) and KPU cooperated with presidential-administration head Viktor Medvedchuk in preparing the constitutional reforms that parliament failed to approve in spring 2004. These were eventually adopted by parliament in December 2004, with only the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) voting against them.

SPU leader Oleksandr Moroz and KPU leader Petro Symonenko did not support a united opposition candidate in the 2004 presidential elections, but instead put forward their own candidates. But Moroz backed Yushchenko in the two second rounds (in exchange for his support for constitutional reforms), while KPU voters backed Yanukovych.

What The Opposition Must Do

Comparing the Kuchma era and the situation today, five conclusions can be drawn.

First, the opposition is weaker today than it was in the four years prior to the Orange Revolution. At the same time, Yanukovych's team is stronger than that of Kuchma.

Kuchma's personal authority and standing were irreparably damaged both at home, as reflected in the defeat of his For a United Ukraine bloc in the 2002 elections, and in the West, where he was shunned because of the Gongadze murder, a scandal over the illicit sale of four Kolchuga radar systems to Iraq, and other evidence the tapes made by presidential guard Mykola Melnychenko yielded of his abuse of office. In 2004, the opposition had just two presidential candidates (Yushchenko and Moroz), while in 2010 the former Orange camp had three times as many.

Second, Tymoshenko is the strongest component of the weaker opposition. But, unlike in the Kuchma era, Tymoshenko is not a parliament deputy, which undercuts her ability to function as opposition leader. She maybe also be less able to unite the opposition than was Yushchenko in 2004.

Third, Yushchenko remains unwaveringly obsessed with, and hostile to, Tymoshenko, unlike in 2001-04 when they joined forces and cooperated. The NU-NSO bloc is more divided today than Our Ukraine was under Kuchma. Meanwhile, the NU-NSO bloc's initial nine parties in 2007 have grown to 13, fracturing the center-right, which fielded multiple Orange candidates in 2010.

Fourth, the lack of a center-left component to the opposition makes it weaker. In 2000-03, the SPU, which then had approximately the same electoral support as the BYuT, was a strong supporter of the opposition.

It was SPU leader Moroz who made public to a shocked parliament in November 2000 the clandestine tape recordings that documented Kuchma's involvement in the murder of Gongadze. The SPU had earlier helped Melnychenko to flee from Ukraine to Prague.

Since 2006-07, the SPU has lost support because Moroz failed to step down as its leader after voters deserted the SPU following its July 2006 defection from the Orange coalition to the Party of Regions. Moroz finished third in the preceding three presidential elections, but only 11th in 2010.

That self-destruction of the SPU permitted the ideologically vacuous Volodymyr Lytvyn bloc to be elected to parliament in 2007 in its place. Following Yanukovych's election as president, the Lytvyn bloc deserted the democratic coalition and joined the pro-Yanukovych Stability and Reforms coalition, a U-turn that resembles the SPU's 2006 defection. The consequences for the Lytvyn bloc will be as defeating in the 2012 elections as for the SPU in 2007.

Fifth, in 2000-03 young people did not identify overwhelmingly with one single opposition force. It was only in 2004 that they became a crucial component of the Yushchenko campaign through the "yellow" and "black" wings of "Pora" (It's Time) and other youth NGOs. In other words, the generation born between when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in 1985 and the disintegration of the USSR six years later emerged as "Generation Orange."

Today the situation is different. Disillusioned by five years of Yushchenko's presidency and infighting among the former Orange Revolution allies, many young Ukrainians have withdrawn from politics, while a minority have been attracted by the extreme right Svoboda (Freedom) Party led by Oleh Tyahnybok. The "Yellow" Pora wing evolved into another virtual center-right political party. It failed to enter parliament in 2006, but succeeded in 2007 as one of nine parties in NU-NSO.

The Constitutional Court's recent ruling legalizing the new coalition effectively precludes early elections in the fall. The opposition therefore has two years to plan, mobilize, and develop new tactics and strategies before the next parliamentary elections in September 2012.

The 2012 parliament will be very different from the two parliaments elected after the Orange Revolution in 2006 and 2007. In 2012, gone will be the KPU, the Lytvyn bloc, and mega-center-right blocs such as NU-NSO. In will be the Party of Regions and BYuT, competing again for first and second places, followed in third and fourth places by new liberal political forces (Yatsenyuk, Tihipko), with the nationalists (Yushchenko, Tyahnybok) possibly entering parliament in last place.

Taras Kuzio is a senior fellow of Ukrainian studies at the University of Toronto and editor of "Ukraine Analyst." The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Yanukovych challenge

Five years is a long time. Ukrainian PresidentViktor Yanukovych can surprise his harshest domestic political critics, along with concerned diaspora communities, by decisively leading Ukraine along the path of meaningful political, economic and social reforms. At the very least this path would place him as a good leader who understands his task is to serve the public rather than be served.

Conversely, Yanukovych can simply demonstrate governing incompetence with a continuation of rent-seeking in a corrupt social and political system and further demoralize a frustrated nation. Already, some of his actions have raised alarms such as the political maneuvers with the judiciary and dubious cabinet appointments of individuals whose main traits seem to be a phobia against anything Ukrainian.

Outside of recent remarks by the White House welcoming Ukraine’s relinquishing of enriched uranium, the world press has been generally non-judgmental or perhaps uninterested in his first months in office. One suspects the global community holds the Ukrainian president to a low performance standard – simply ensure the uninterrupted transit of Russian energy. This interlude is likely to be of short duration; Yanukovych by design or accident will test the fibers of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution legacy and its national maturity.

Hopefully, Ukraine has sufficiently evolved both politically and socially that backsliding to authoritarian government or worse yet quasi-sovereign existence is remote. For all its warts, modern Ukrainian society is surprisingly open without the xenophobic restrictions characterizing Russia. The acceptance of Mormons, Seventh-Day Adventists and a dizzying array of other religious confessions together with a spectrum of political outlooks speaks to the strength of plurality in Ukrainian society.

The genie has come out and will not readily return to the lamp no matter what the formal posture of the head of state. Ukraine has nearly 20 years of independence, an unmatched experience in its modern history. Many officers in the military and government officials have no experience with Soviet rule. A typical military career lasts some 20 years. Hence, all current junior and many senior military personnel, including the overwhelming majority of enlisted cadre, have never served in the Soviet armed forces.

Their government counterparts look to Kyiv for advancement and not Moscow. An efficiently functioning Ukrainian state for the purposes of retirement benefits, continued opportunities or the ability to travel easily throughout the world is clearly in their interest regardless of political leaning. Whether they know this or not, their interests are very different from octogenarian and veterans of World War II who periodically emerge to wax nostalgic for the past. All government bureaucrats who have helped establish the Ukrainian state over the past two decades understand where their interests lie. They need only recall Germany’s reunification, where all Eastern Germany officers above the rank of captain were released and most communist officials were unceremoniously jettisoned. The protection of self-interest would suggest that there are very defined limits in the thaw with Russia as they might affect sovereignty.

The philosophic contest in Ukraine is over its character. Intelligent people understand the blue and yellow flag, the Truzub or Ukrainian language do not by themselves alleviate poverty, deliver the mail, make the trains run on time or promote ethical behavior, but at the same time they encompass the centuries old spiritual and cultural reservoirs of the country. These are assets that have sustained the nation despite being split over the centuries by different occupying powers, enduring wars and revolutions and suffering the calamity of The Holodomor. It is remarkable how quickly people who had reviled the Tryzub or the blue-yellow flag during the Soviet era had little problem wearing “nationalist” symbols in the new order.

Former Soviet border guards and customs personnel who zealously searched luggage for banned literature or symbols of any Ukrainian identity sported the same emblems worn by Ukrainian Insurgent Army (known by the UPA acronym) soldiers without a wince or murmur! Their opposition to things Ukrainian may have been vocal or symbolic for public consumption but apparently never had the deep roots of conviction. Every Ukrainian president to date, including the incumbent, realized or comes to realize that the country cannot be governed as some feudal arrangement of pseudo-Ukrainian Russian speaking provinces.

Yanukovych has made his first trips abroad and he must be comparing the receptions he received in European capitals or his recent meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama against the reception in Moscow. Do Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin treat this man, who physically towers over them, as a head of state or as some regional governor? If Yanukovych garners no respect, it will be only because he comes from a circle that has no viable or remotely plausible alternative historical or cultural tradition beyond mere existence – neither truly Russian nor quite Ukrainian. Since 1991, in stark contrast to the Russian experience, four different presidents have been elected in Ukraine, each time from a different political party or faction. This process has helped to meld the legacy of a Ukrainian identity that will not wither in the face of hostile and acerbic comments from some segments of Yanukovysh’s base, like the recently shameful comments and histrionics of Education Minister Dmytro Tabachnik.

Several years after Ukraine’s declaration of independence, a representative of a big global concern was investigating business prospects in the agricultural sector. He made a telling remark, suggesting that outsiders at times see the picture more clearly and get to the core of an issue. He asked rhetorically, “Why do Ukrainian politicians hate their own people”? President Yanukovych, your administration will go a long way to achieving the unexpected if you simply do not hate your people. Share with them their joys, mitigate their anguish, but remember that the Ukrainian independent state has no tradition of czars – you are a servant of the people.

Larissa Kyj is a Columbia University Ph.D. who is a full professor of accounting and finance at Rowan University. Myroslaw Kyj is a Temple University Ph.D. who is a full professor of marketing at Widner University.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Ukraine's new president faces big challenge in hosting Euro 2012

By David Marples, Edmonton Journal|April 11, 2010

The World Cup and Summer Olympics aside, the world's biggest sporting event is the European Football Championship, a tournament held every four years in a different venue, in which 16 finalists compete for a trophy won most recently by Spain in 2008.

The hosts for the 2012 event are Poland and Ukraine. However, Ukraine has been given a two-month deadline to complete its preparations, following a visit of Michel Platini, president of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), to the country last week.

Winning the right to host the tournament was a major coup by Poland and Ukraine, which defeated rival bids from Italy and Croatia-Hungary in April 2007. In the first round of voting for the 2012 location, Italy was ahead, but in the second round, the Poland-Ukraine bid received more than double the votes cast for the Italians, while the Hungary-Croatia bid received zero votes.

According to the schedule, preliminary rounds will be held in four Polish and four Ukrainian cities (Warsaw, Gdansk, Wroclaw, and Poznan; Kyiv, L'viv, Kharkiv and Donetsk). Warsaw will host a quarter and semifinals match, while Kyiv will have six matches, including a quarter-final and semifinal, as well as the final on July 1, 2012.

From Ukraine's perspective, Euro 2012 will boost the economy and provide an opportunity for the country to showcase its attractions. For UEFA, it spotlights central and eastern countries that do not possess the sort of rich home soccer clubs found in Western Europe, but where soccer (football to all Europeans) is the main spectator sport. In 2006, Ukraine reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup, a remarkable achievement, although it failed to qualify for the 2010 finals in South Africa.

Internally, the sport is dominated by a few businessmen. Ukraine's representative at UEFA is Hryhoriy Surkis, who has been president of the Football Federation of Ukraine for three terms. A few years ago he was denied a visa to enter the United States, reportedly because of accusations of corrupt practices. Surkis' brother Ihor is Chairman of Dynamo Kyiv, one of Ukraine's biggest and most successful teams. The other is Shakhtar Donetsk, which won the UEFA Cup in 2009 and is owned by Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine's richest man and one of the chief backers of Viktor Yanukovych's presidential election campaign.

Shakhtar's recent success has mirrored the rise of Donetsk as a key region of Ukraine. The team is made up partly of non-native players, most notably Brazilians who comprise seven of the 27-member squad. Donetsk hosted the World Cup playoff game between Ukraine and Greece last November, but few locals could afford the exorbitant admission price set by the Football Federation of Ukraine. The result, as Akhmetov complained bitterly, was a half-empty stadium for a match that had the potential to sell out many times over. That situation reflects the dual problem for Ukraine as a UEFA host--the economic recession and its impact on employment and salaries; and Surkis' desire to reap profits rather than provide cheaper seats.

Platini visited the four designated cities of L'viv, Kyiv, Donetsk and Kharkiv, and met with new Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych. He noted problems in Kyiv, where construction of the new Olympic Stadium is weeks behind schedule, and L'viv, where work on the Lemberg Stadium has stopped altogether. In Donetsk, there is a suitable stadium but few hotels. Of the four cities, only Kharkiv appears to be making sufficient progress.

Earlier, as Ukraine fell behind schedule, UEFA threatened to find another co-host. However, Platini remains committed to Ukraine, though he has threatened that if the infrastructure is not completed, all the Ukrainian games will be held in Kyiv. None of the stadiums other than Kyiv, which holds 63,000, is adequate for the final, which has a prospective television audience of 100 million TV viewers, rivalled only by the Super Bowl.

Ukraine has appointed a government minister expressly to prepare for Euro 2012. Borys Kolesnikov has pledged government investment of 26 billion hryvnya ($3.3 billion US) from the 2010 state budget to improve roads, airports, and complete the building of stadiums. This is a massive task given the economy's 6.8-per-cent contraction in the fourth quarter of 2009 and Ukraine's self-imposed goal of reducing the budget deficit to six per cent of GDP. Much depends on the receipt of the remaining $5.8 billion from the International Monetary Fund, part of an original $16.4 billion loan.

Ukraine's situation is comparable to that of Russia, which prepares for the Winter Olympics in Sochi (2014) and both countries face similar problems. In September 2010, 51 countries commence the qualifying rounds of the competition (Poland and Ukraine automatically qualify as host countries). Competition is intense -- in future tournaments 24 teams will reach the finals, a reflection of UEFA's willingness to include such countries as Kazakhstan and Israel within a greater Europe.

Yanukovych cannot afford failure given the international media's focus on this competition. Preparation for Euro 2012 is the first major test of his administration and one with potentially significant rewards. In 2005, Kyiv hosted the Eurovision Song Contest, offering lowbrow glitterati a chance to strut to synthesized pop music. Euro 2012 is a more serious endeavour that will highlight the world's most-popular sport over a three-week period. The opportunity cannot be forfeited.

David Marples, a professor of history at the University of Alberta, has been a devotee of soccer for many years.

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal

A Foe to Love

Viktor Yanukovych, the former Russian puppet and boogeyman of Ukraine's Orange Revolution, will use the presidency to steer his country away from the West. Actually, that suits Obama very well.

By Owen Matthews | Newsweek Web Exclusive
Apr 12, 2010 | Updated: 4:38 p.m. ET Apr 12, 2010

President Barack Obama met today with Ukraine's new President, Viktor Yanukovych, who's in Washington for the Nuclear Security Summit. In theory, this should have been a disaster: over the years the United States has devoted a lot of time and diplomatic capital to keeping the pro-Russian Yanukovych out of power. Washington refused to recognize his "victory" in a rigged 2004 election and instead supported his Western-leaning rival, Viktor Yushchenko, and the Orange Revolution that eventually brought him to power. Yushchenko wanted to bring Ukraine westward—into NATO and the European Union—and was supported in this quest by the Bush administration, much to the chagrin of European powers like Germany, France, and Italy (who rightly feared that pushing Ukraine into NATO would cause fury in Russia). Now Yanukovych is back, and he will surely draw Ukraine back toward Russia: he makes no secret of his view that the NATO idea was "a mistake" and "against Ukraine's national interests." Earlier this month he even scrapped a government body dedicated to overseeing NATO integration. Instead, Yanukovych says that he wants Ukraine to be "a neutral country on good terms with all of our neighbors." This doesn't seem like a natural friend for Obama.

And yet all of this suits the American president quite well. For Obama, Yanukovych's move back to Russia's orbit makes life much easier. NATO membership for Ukraine was a major irritant in Washington-Moscow relations for years. Now, Obama has made a point of "resetting" relations with Moscow, and to do that he needs to remove as many spanners from the diplomatic works as possible. One such obstacle was overcome last week when Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sat down with Obama in Prague Castle to sign a new nuclear arms-reduction treaty, in an atmosphere as constructive and friendly as there has been between the two countries' leaders in a decade.

But there are other examples of hurdle-clearing, too: Washington scrapped plans to station antiballistic-missile interceptors in Poland and the Czech Republic; instead, it will station them in Southern Europe, where they won't interfere with Russia's nuclear capabilities. The most important, though, is Obama's very clear signal that he won't push to include former Soviet republics like Ukraine and Georgia into NATO and a Western embrace, as Bush had done. A cold rapport with Yanukovych will allow Obama to cultivate a warm one with Russia's Dmitry Medvedev.

And Russia, for Obama, is the more important relationship. In the grand scheme of things, incremental victories for liberalism in Ukraine won't do nearly as much for American security as close relations with Moscow. First and foremost, they'll have to work together to contain Iran's nuclear ambitions: Russia's vote for sanctions in the U.N. Security Council will be crucial. And Russia has so far held off from delivering a powerful $1 billion S-300 missile-defense system bought by Tehran in 2007.

Obama's new line is hardly the sellout of the Ukrainian people that American supporters of the Orange Revolution might be given to believe. It is pretty much in line with what ordinary Ukrainians think: according to a recent poll, more than two thirds reject the idea of joining NATO (in Georgia, the proportions are reversed because of the 2008 war with Russia). So rather than a meeting of awkwardness and anxiety with Yanukovych today, Obama's confab with him heralds the beginning of a more pragmatic relationship for America and Ukraine, and a more fruitful one for America and Russia.

Kyrgyzstan and the Russian Resurgence

Written by By Lauren Goodrich, STRATFOR

13/04/2010 14:32

This past week saw another key success in Russia’s resurgence in former Soviet territory when pro-Russian forces took control of Kyrgyzstan.

The Kyrgyz revolution was quick and intense. Within 24 hours, protests that had been simmering for months spun into countrywide riots as the president fled and a replacement government took control. The manner in which every piece necessary to exchange one government for another fell into place in such a short period discredits arguments that this was a spontaneous uprising of the people in response to unsatisfactory economic conditions. Instead, this revolution appears prearranged.

A Prearranged Revolution

Opposition forces in Kyrgyzstan have long held protests, especially since the Tulip Revolution in 2005 that brought recently ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev to power. But various opposition groupings never were capable of pulling off such a full revolution — until Russia became involved.

In the weeks before the revolution, select Kyrgyz opposition members visited MOSCOW to meet with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. STRATFOR sources in Kyrgyzstan reported the pervasive, noticeable presence of Russia’s Federal Security Service on the ground during the crisis, and MOSCOW readied 150 elite Russian paratroopers the day after the revolution to fly into Russian bases in Kyrgyzstan. As the dust began to settle, Russia endorsed the still-coalescing government.

There are quite a few reasons why Russia would target a country nearly 600 miles from its borders (and nearly 1,900 miles from capital to capital), though Kyrgyzstan itself is not much of a prize. The country has no economy or strategic resources to speak of and is highly dependent on all its neighbors for foodstuffs and energy. But it does have a valuable geographic location.

Central Asia largely comprises a massive steppe of more than a million square miles, making the region easy to invade. The one major geographic feature other than the steppe are the Tien Shan mountains, a range that divides Central Asia from South Asia and China. Nestled within these mountains is the Fergana Valley, home to most of Central Asia’s population due to its arable land and the protection afforded by the mountains. The Fergana Valley is the core of Central Asia.

Kyrgyzstan and the Russian Resurgence

To prevent this core from consolidating into the power center of the region, the Soviets sliced up the Fergana Valley between three countries. Uzbekistan holds the valley floor, Tajikistan the entrance to the valley and Kyrgyzstan the highlands surrounding the valley. Kyrgyzstan lacks the economically valuable parts of the valley, but it does benefit from encircling it. Control of Kyrgyzstan equals control of the valley, and hence of Central Asia’s core.

Moreover, the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek is only 120 miles from Kazakhstan’s largest city (and historic and economic capital), Almaty. The Kyrgyz location in the Tien Shan also gives Kyrgyzstan the ability to monitor Chinese moves in the region. And its highlands also overlook China’s Tarim Basin, part of the contentious Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

Given its strategic location, control of Kyrgyzstan offers the ability to pressure Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China. Kyrgyzstan is thus a critical piece in Russia’s overall plan to resurge into its former Soviet sphere.
The Russian Resurgence

Russia’s resurgence is a function of its extreme geographic vulnerability. Russia lacks definable geographic barriers between it and other regional powers. The Russian core is the swath of land from MOSCOW down into the breadbasket of the Volga region. In medieval days, this area was known as Muscovy. It has no rivers, oceans or mountains demarcating its borders. Its only real domestic defenses are its inhospitable weather and dense forests. This led to a history of endless invasions, including depredations by everyone from Mongol hordes to Teutonic knights to the Nazis.

To counter this inherent indefensibility, Russia historically has adopted the principle of expansion. Russia thus has continually sought to expand far enough to anchor its power in a definable geographic barrier — like a mountain chain — or to expand far enough to create a buffer between itself and other regional powers. This objective of expansion has been the key to Russia’s national security and its ability to survive. Each Russian leader has understood this. Ivan the Terrible expanded southwest into the Ukrainian marshlands, Catherine the Great into the Central Asian steppe and the Tien Shan and the Soviet Union into much of Eastern and Central Europe.

Russia’s expansion has been in four strategic directions. The first is to the north and northeast to hold the protection offered by the Ural Mountains. This strategy is more of a “just-in-case” expansion. Thus, in the event MOSCOW should ever fall, Russia can take refuge in the Urals and prepare for a future resurgence. Stalin used this strategy in World War II when he relocated many of Russia’s industrial towns to Ural territory to protect them from the Nazi invasion.

The second is to the west toward the Carpathians and across the North European Plain. Holding the land up to the Carpathians — traditionally including Ukraine , Moldova and parts of Romania — creates an anchor in Europe with which to protect Russia from the southwest. Meanwhile, the North European Plain is the one of the most indefensible routes into Russia, offering Russia no buffer. Russia’s objective has been to penetrate as deep into the plain as possible, making the sheer distance needed to travel across it toward Russia a challenge for potential invaders.

The third direction is south to the Caucasus. This involves holding both the Greater and Lesser Caucasus mountain ranges, creating a tough geographic barrier between Russia and regional powers Turkey and Iran. It also means controlling Russia’s Muslim regions (like Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan), as well as Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The fourth is to the east and southeast into Siberia and Central Asia. The Tien Shan mountains are the only geographic barrier between the Russian core and Asia; the Central Asian steppe is, as its name implies, flat until it hits Kyrgyzstan’s mountains.

With the exception of the North European Plain, Russia’s expansion strategy focuses on the importance of mountains — the Carpathians, the Caucasus and Tien Shan — as geographic barriers. Holding the land up to these definable barriers is part of Russia’s greater strategy, without which Russia is vulnerable and weak.

The Russia of the Soviet era attained these goals. It held the lands up to these mountain barriers and controlled the North European Plain all the way to the West German border. But its hold on these anchors faltered with the fall of the Soviet Union. This collapse began when MOSCOW lost control over the fourteen other states of the Soviet Union. The Soviet disintegration did not guarantee, of course, that Russia would not re-emerge in another form. The West — and the United States in particular — thus saw the end of the Cold War as an opportunity to ensure that Russia would never re-emerge as the great Eurasian hegemon.

To do this, the United States began poaching among the states between Russia and its geographic barriers, taking them out of the Russian sphere in a process that ultimately would see Russian influence contained inside the borders of Russia proper. To this end, Washington sought to expand its influence in the countries surrounding Russia. This began with the expansion of the U.S. military club, NATO , into the Baltic states in 2004. This literally put the West on Russia’s doorstep (at their nearest point, the Baltics are less than 100 miles from St. Petersburg) on one of Russia’s weakest points on the North European Plain.

Washington next encouraged pro-American and pro-Western democratic movements in the former Soviet republics. These were the so-called “color revolutions,” which began in Georgia in 2003 and moved on to Ukraine in 2004 and Kyrgyzstan in 2005. This amputated Russia’s three mountain anchors.

The Orange Revolution in Ukraine proved a breaking point in U.S.-Russian relations, however. At that point, MOSCOW recognized that the United States was seeking to cripple Russia permanently. After Ukraine turned orange, Russia began to organize a response.

The Window of Opportunity

Russia received a golden opportunity to push back on U.S. influence in the former Soviet republics and redefine the region thanks to the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the crisis with Iran. Its focus on the Islamic world has left Washington with a limited ability to continue picking away at the former Soviet space or to counter any Russian responses to Western influence. MOSCOW knows Washington won’t stay fixated on the Islamic world for much longer, which is why Russia has accelerated its efforts to reverse Western influence in the former Soviet sphere and guarantee Russian national security.

In the past few years, Russia has worked to roll back Western influence in the former Soviet sphere country by country. MOSCOW has scored a number of major successes in 2010. In January, MOSCOW signed a customs union agreement to economically reintegrate Russia with Kazakhstan and Belarus. Also in January, a pro-Russian government was elected in Ukraine . And now, a pro-Russian government has taken power in Kyrgyzstan.

The last of these countries is an important milestone for MOSCOW , given that Russia does not even border Kyrgyzstan. This indicates MOSCOW must be secure in its control of territory from the Russian core across the Central Asian Steppe.

As it seeks to roll back Western influence, Russia has tested a handful of tools in each of the former Soviet republics. These have included political pressure, social instability, economic weight, energy connections, security services and direct military intervention. Thus far, the pressure brought on by its energy connections — as seen in Ukraine and Lithuania — has proved most useful. Russia has used the cutoffs of supplies to hurt the countries and garner a reaction from Europe against these states. The use of direct military intervention — as seen in Georgia — also has proved successful, with Russia now holding a third of that country’s land. Political pressure in Belarus and Kazakhstan has pushed the countries into signing the aforementioned customs union. And now with Kyrgyzstan, Russia has proved willing to take a page from the U.S. playbook and spark a revolution along the lines of the pro-Western color revolutions. Russian strategy has been tailor-made for each country, taking into account their differences to put them into MOSCOW ’s pocket — or at least make them more pragmatic toward Russia.

Thus far, Russia has nearly returned to its mountain anchors on each side, though it has yet to sew up the North European Plain. And this leaves a much stronger Russia for the United States to contend with when Washington does return its gaze to Eurasia.

"This report is republished with permission of STRATFOR "

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