Friday, February 29, 2008

Capricious Yushchenko

Today Former president of Ukraine, Leonid Kravchuk, sprung to the defence of Yulia Tymoshenko and her government following days of public vilification from the president and his secretariat, particularly from its allegedly corrupt small-town-mafioso head Viktor Baloha.

Here's a story from Obkom [and elsewhere] entitled: "Kravchuk shames capricious Yushchenko"

Former president of Ukraine, Leonid Kravchuk, considers that a campaign by the president's secretariat to discredit Yulia Tymoshenko's government has begun, but in his opinion, Tymoshenko not will sit quietly while this takes place.

"The democratic coalition, which, as I understand, is headed by the President, who should do everything to ensure it works, and to find ways of accomplishing the tasks which confront Ukraine, is beginning...to topple this coalition. This is not to the benefit to Ukrainian state." Kravchuk considers that right now the interrelations between the president's secretariat [and the government] are analogous to those of 2005 [when premier Tymoshenko was sacked].

In his opinion, the government is adopting a patriotic position in the negotiation process with Gazprom. "Who of us [really] knows what's going on in the gas sector? The President says one thing, Moscow says another, Tymoshenko says the third. If it really is as I have read in the Gazprom document which has been leaked in Ukraine, then it is wholly natural that Gazprom is attempting to enter Ukraine and to control not only the gas that is purchased, but also the gas which is extracted in Ukraine. If this is the truth, and it probably is because no one is refuting it, then in this case the government is occupying a patriotic position. We cannot transfer everything to Gazprom," he emphasized.

Kravchuk is convinced that the country's leaders must reveal the true situation in the gas sector: "Whose interests are being protected? Who is sitting on the pipe? Relatives, close friends [svaty]? Who is fighting for odious persons of Ukraine to occupy key positions in the gas supply system?"

"There can be various relationships between the President and the premier... If the President is the nationally elected President, he should show tolerance to the premier in public relations with the government and parliament. And that which is taking place today, is a problem of personal relations, and from these, conflicts begin," considers Kravchuk.

Another story 'doing the rounds' including in 'Hazeta po Ukrainsky'- "Yushchenko gifted Yanukovych a dacha, and then he agreed to early elections"

President Yushchenko granted the dacha at Mezhyhirya in Nova Petrivka to the leader of PoR Viktor Yanukovych by secret decree, according to the 'Delo' newspaper which received the information from the State Administration of Matters [Derzhavne upravlinnya spravamy].

On 9th July, 2007, Yushchenko telephoned the-then premier Yanukovych to congratulate him on his birthday, and just a few hours later signed secret order N148.

This secret order grants use to the former prime minister of "the dacha building situated in the Pushcha Vodytsya leisure complex, which is in need of repair".

During the same day, on 9th July, the President's website carried other document - an ukaz obliging premier Yanukovych to carry out an order of the National Security and Defence Council to provide financing for early parliamentary elections. It is not unreasonable to speculate that this was a quid pro quo arrangement.

Last week Yanukovich confirmed that he does have a dacha at Mezhyhirya, granted by Presidential decree. On 21st February, in the interview with the Ukrainian service the BBC, Yanukovych stated that he is trying to buy the dacha in a location whose name could not recall, and is negotiating over the price.

I'm not sure who should be more annoyed about this - Yanukovych' supporters for his 'selling out' to the President, or Yushchenko's supporters for the President distributing bribes..

But Kravchuk is right - no leaders of a respectable state should argue in public on matters of foreign affairs.

p.s. A possible explanation why Putin chose Medvedev as his successor from the London 'Times'?

"42-year-old [Dmitri Medvedev] owes his entire political career to Putin's patronage, and has even begun to walk and talk like his mentor. State TV has taken to filming him at angles that make him look taller, though in fact he is only 5ft 4in - 3in shorter than Putin."

Too vain to choose a taller man?

One British observer, rather cruelly described the new man, as: 'Having the appearance of a John Lewis [chain store] electric goods department salesman.'

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Tymoshenko ill

Yulia Tymoshenko has been admitted to hospital because her flu has got worse. She has struggled for many days with flu and tonsilitis, and i.m.o. has not looked too well at all lately.

She's been under enormous stress too.

Yesterday Mykola Tomenko, deputy head of the BYuT fraction, in a TV interview, accused the president's secretariat, that in Russian-Ukrainian gas matters, they are "acting as Gazprom's press-secretary."

He considers Gazprom's aggressive rhetoric as a well-publicized defence of their own state and economic interests, significantly, days before the March 2nd presidential elections in Russia.

"..the president and the government, and all the Ukrainian authorities [should] have a consolidated position in Ukrainian-Russian negotiations..on the gas question," complained Tomenko.

Tymoshenko failed to attend a meeting Tuesday morning with the president during which, no doubt she would have been 'dressed down' yet again by the president, who had spoken with Vladimir Putin on questions of gas, the night before.
According to 'Obkom', out of the last 15 postings on the presidential secretariat's website, 10 have been critical of the work of Tymoshenko and her cabinet. In one and a half years of his premiership Yanukovych did not receive the 'kicking' that Tymoshenko has had to endure in just two months.

E.g. here is one: The banner is "The cabinet of ministers has done everything possible to give Russia grounds to stop delivery of gas to Ukraine - Baloha"

These words of the president after last Autumn's early parliamentary elections: "Finally, for the first time in history, a democratic majority has been created for the president", seem a long way away.

LEvko thinks its no surprise Yulka T feels sick. The attacks from the secretariat against someone who is supposed to be a political ally in a democratic alliance, are unprecedented.

Maybe Yushchenko just cannot forgive her for providing him with his place in Ukrainian history as leader of the the orange revolution. Arguably, without her, it may well have all 'fallen through' and ended in 'pshik'.

p.s. Details on Viktor Baloha's highly dubious background can be read on this respected journalist's personal blogsite.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Gas man Boyko's interview

Yesterday former head of Naftohaz Ukrainy, now PoR deputy, Yuriy Boyko was interviewed, in Ukrainian, on 'Radio Svoboda'. A partial transcript and link to the audio-file is posted on their site. Taras at Ukrainiana has also provided translations.

Boyko admits some of his colleagues may be participating in Viktor Baloha's new political initiative, which, in Boyko's opinion, is being made "precisely because he [Baloha] is aware the ruling coalition in the format in which it currently exists, is not working.."

He suggests many problems could be better resolved if a more durable, broad coalition were formed in parliament.

He also admits he was invited to a National Security and Defence Council meeting on gas questions, "as an expert" but denies that he, and Dmitro Firtash of RUE, have offered to bank-roll Yanukovych and PoR instead of Rinat Akhmetov.

In some ways the most interesting part of the interview concerns Ukraine's gas imports.
Boyko probably knows more about the darker corners of the Ukraine-Russia-central Asia gas business than any other man because he was closely involved with the creation of the opaque intermediary company RosUkrEnergo.

He states that in the recent disagreement between Ukraine and Russia, there were no debts incurred, as such. All of Ukraine's gas imports are from central Asia - the 4Bcm of supposedly much more expensive Russian gas that Gazprom claim they supplied to Ukrainian consumers as a 'top-up' this winter, is part of normal operations which take place every year because of high winter demand in central Asia. During the warmer months, this gas is returned to Gazprom from the regular supplies of central Asian gas that are continuously piped to Ukraine.

The debts have arisen because of the expiry, and failure to renew contracts by the Tymoshenko administration. Since 1st January this year there has been no contracts between the Russian and Ukrainian sides in which gas prices have been defined, hence the difficulties.

Gazprom today again threatened to reduce gas supplies to Ukraine by 25% on 3rd March unless, debts were repaid. Later in the day first vice-premier Oleksandr Turchynov stated "..Naftohaz has settled its debts from last year. It's a shame that these billions of hryven have been paid by Ukraine to middlemen for debts that were artificially created by predecessors."

p.s. More background on Boyko and his involvement in the gas business in this May 2007 paper [in English] entitled: "The opacity of Russian-Ukrainian Energy Relations", from 'Institut fran├žais des relations internationales'

Part of its conclusion:
"Keeping the trader RosUkrEnergo as the required intermediary of gas relations between Ukraine and Russia, in disregard of any economic rationality, is the most striking illustration of this ambiguous, if not incestuous, symbiosis. The moderation Gazprom has shown in the fall of 2006 has certainly something to do with the position taken by Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich on NATO, which tends to confirm a linkage between energy issues and broader strategic issues."

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Tymoshenko seeking new allies

Since the formation of the new government and new VR ruling coalition late last year, major Ukrainian players, in their struggle maintain or re-establish power, have been reassessing their relationships with their allies and foes.

Raisa Bohatyryova, one of PoR's big hitters, is now secretary of the influential National Defence and Security Council, and is actively working with the president's team.

Viktor Baloha, head of the president's secretariat, has, together with several of his NSNU cronies in the VR, left his party, apparently to start a new political project aimed at securing Yushchenko a second presidential term in office, possibly assisted by some of 'big name' Donetsk oligarchs.

The respected 'Kommentarii' now claims that BYuT may be tightening its ties with one of PoR's Orange Revolution 'villains' - Andriy Klyuev, in order to compete with Yushchenko in the south-eastern part of the country.

The 'business- wing' of PoR, formed from competing financial-industrial groups, has begun to seek not so much political, as political and economic diversification. A new political orientation may be being taken up by Klyuev, who was vice-premier responsible for Fuel and Energy in the Yanukovych cabinet.

It is customarily assumed that he is one of Yanukovych's closest associates. In principle this is true if one considers internal opposition to Viktor Fedorovych is now provided by the "right deviationists" - Rinat Akhmetov, Boris Kolesnikov and Raisa Bohatyreva; but these people have moved closer to President Yushchenko, and now have little interest in Yanukovych's political problems. They are the same people who squeezed out Klyuev from the management of the 2007 PoR VR election campaign.

Klyuev and Tymoshenko's mutual relations in the past have been difficult, but they have abstained from personal mutual recriminations. Klyuev was allegedly the chief fixer accused of buying BYuT deputies last year in parliament. These deputies' switch of allegiance drove Yushchenko to dismiss the VR - for which Kluyev had to 'carry the can' in his party. Ironically Tymoshenko can thank Klyuev for precipitating the crisis which resulted in early VR elections, enabling her to return as head of government.

Klyuev was always an enemy of the so-called Boyko-Firtash group in the government of Yanukovych, and had hinted in the past that gas middleman RosUkrEnergo should be removed from Ukraine's gas business. There has some speculation that Boyko-Firtash may, in the future, take over sponsorship of PoR.

Both Tymoshenko and Yushchenko will be fighting for votes amongst the eastern 'elektorat', in future elections, and therefore are ready to participate in the redistribution of the political assets of Party of Regions. No major shifts are imminent, but the improvement of relations between Klyuev and Yulia T. may be part of a larger game, in which all the main political players in Ukrainian politics are participating.

In another 'Kommentarii' article, entitled 'Premier gaves chance to enemies', one reason is proposed for possible political reorientation amongst Ukraine's leading oligarchic figures.
Cadre reshuffles in the state electric-power generating sector may suggest that Andriy Klyuev, Ihor Kolomoyskiy, and Tymoshenko-favourite Konstantyn Zhevago, and will collaborate more closely in the future.

The association of these previously irreconcilable opponents makes it possible for their financial-business groups to restore their individual influence on power-generating enterprises, and also enables them to become the owners of new enterprises.

Designations amonst Ukraine's energy companies could hardly be possible without tacit approval from Tymoshenko, for whom it is important to improve relations with 'Donchany'. The presidential 'vertikal' is strengthening its ties with the Akhmetov-led group in PoR, so it is logical for Tymoshenko to seek friends amongst another Donetskiites: in particular with the Klyuev brothers, who have had 'run-ins' with Akhmetov's group in the past.

p.s. I can recommend this piece by distinguished BBC journalist Jonathan Dimbleby on 'master-manipulator' Vladimir Putin, from today's 'Sunday Times' from London.

It ends:

"As we wandered through the labour camp where he [Sergei Kovalev, a distinguished biophysicist, who was charged in 1974 with “antiSoviet agitation and propaganda”] had been held in solitary confinement, he was in despair: “The state today is much more powerful than it was in the time of the Soviet Union. Indeed, it was better under Stalin because at least everyone knew that it was a sham. I am now convinced that our government will never be changed through the electoral system. Today Russia is like a Liars’ Kingdom. We are ruled by liars.” That thought has not left me since.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Hot cars in Kyiv

'Russia Today' have quite a good video story [in English] here on the whole Yatsenyuk 'middle-finger' road-rage affair.

The deputy head of Ukraine's task police road force [DAI] 'Cobra', Oleksiy Kozha, who it was that allegedly gave Yatsenyuk the 'one finger salute', was driving an impressive Porsche Cayenne at the time of the incident. Of course, he claims the car didn't belong to him, [no, no, no, what a silly idea] but to a 'close friend from Donetsk' who cannot come to Kyiv often in the car, so the right to drive the vehicle had just been 'temporarily' transferred to him.

Former transport minister Mykola Rudkovsky, who has also been in "hot water" lately, drives around in an Aston Martin, but has also claimed he doesn't own the exotic sports car.

And president Yushchenko's son Andriy, didn't own the $100k BMW M6 in which he used to 'bomb' around Kyiv with his friends a couple of years ago either.

Strange how often, and how easily, such exotic machinery is 'just borrowed from a friend', in Kyiv, isn't it?

If I were Andriy, I would stick to a LADA 'Semyorka' for a while, until the DAIshchyky calm down a bit. They won't be too happy for dad upsetting the road police right now.

LEvko thinks there is something 'fishy' about the whole incident...all too much of a co-incidence. And if Yatsenyuk had a complaint about Kozha, why didn't he go through the proper channels in the Ministry of Interior Affairs? Maybe the MIA head, Yuriy Lutsenko just told him: "Get outta here kid.."

Oh...there isn't anyone out there who could lend me their Audi TT roadster, or Jaguar sports car is there? I promise I'll look after it, honest..Don't hesitate to get in touch..

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

On a more serious note, check out this piece from the English language version of the Russian "Kommersant"

It concludes:

"Tymoshenko’s political future is obvious. Anyway, she will be, in this or that form or in this or that position, the strongest player of Ukraine’s political game. Her political line will hardly be inclined towards the West or towards Russia. I believe the pro-Ukraine character of her platform will make Tymoshenko find the golden mean among complicated geopolitical landmarks. That is what makes her quite predictable and understandable. I think that many in Russia’s political establishment and large business already understand it, which will help build normal working relations with Tymoshenko."

Feint 'harts' and a fair lady

Ukrainian Socialist party boss Oleksandr Moroz considers that some businessmen from Party of Regions may cross over and join Baloha's new political project.

The project may adopt the name "Hart".

"At the moment I do not have at my disposal information that some representatives of PoR intend to join the administrative group created by the secretariat of the President, but I consider this is possible, because the reckless adventure of [last year's] pre-term parliamentary elections was supported by representatives of the business-wing of PoR," said Moroz.

In his opinion, "There was an agreement between the business [side] of PoR and business [side] of NUNS. They wanted to create a broad coalition after the elections, in part, to solve questions of business".

Moroz added, "Viktor Yushchenko campaigned for NUNS, calculating the orange forces would not collect sufficient votes, and that the creation of a wide coalition would be essential. Such a PoR/NUNS alliance would make it possible not only to change the constitution - which particularly interests the president, but [would also help] solve corporate problems".

"Because this plan was not realized due to BYuT's high rating, the business wings of PoR and NUNS are disgruntled and therefore continue to discuss yet further parliamentary elections. I do not think that this will come about," noted Moroz.

"In any event such a step would strongly weaken PoR - they would lose the possibility to propose their own presidential candidate from their political force. And they would lose the confidence of a substantial part of their voters."

Several days ago VR speaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk got into a spot of bother with the Deputy Chief of the Special Highway Patrol Force, who cut him up on the road when driving. Yatsenyuk claimed he was given the 'middle finger'. President Yushchenko then involved himself and made a big deal out of it at a meeting when he adressed a bunch of 'lard-arsed' law enforcement officers. [See video clip here ]. Eventually some guy was sacked for what he claims was 'a misinterpreted hand gesture'. All in all, a storm in a tea-cup.

The incident took place on the Zhytomyr Road. There are rumours that Yatsenyuk, who may allegedly also be joining the 'Hart' project, was on his way to visit Rinat Leonidovych..who lives nearby..

p.s. LEvko wonders if from now on, every time 'wunderkind" Yatsenyuk sits in the speaker's chair in the VR, or says something to irritate VR deputies, there will be lots of hand gestures waved at him from the floor below...He should have swallowed his pride let the whole matter rest, and not go snitching to the 'grown-ups'.

p.p.s. "A faint heart never won a fair lady"..an old saying.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

NU deputies jumping ship

On Tuesday 19th February, five orange VR deputies signed a statement quitting "Our Ukraine". Also leaving the party is creepy deputy head of the president's secretariat, and serial turncoat, Roman Bezsmertniy. All five VR deputies are Viktor Baloha stooges, some of whom did not sign the coalition agreement with BYuT; one is a godparent of one of Yush's children. As I mentioned in a previous blog, Baloha himself left party last Friday.

'Gazeta po Kiyevski' speculates on the significance of their decision.

In the opinion of one political scientist, PM YuliaTymoshenko has been given a warning from the pres's secretariat before her visit tomorrow to Moscow: "Don't mess with the terms agreed by Yushchenko and Putin on the gas deal". First-vice-premier Oleksandr Turchinov has stated earlier that she would be starting negotiations with Gazprom 'from scratch'.

There is to be no arbitrary removal of state property fund head Valentyna Semenyuk, no personnel changes unsanctioned by the president, and no voting in the VR with PoR [as happened last week] - otherwise Baloha's 'group of five' will not vote for laws sponsored by the prime minister e.g. the updated version of the budget.

The 'five' will remain unpunished - a precedent being set already by NUNS deputy Ivan Plyushch, who still holds his VR deputy mandate, despite not entering the new 'dem-koalitsiya'.

Baloha has been sounding out the possibility of forming a new pro-president party, and the resignation of the 'Baloha five' has most probably received the blessing of Yushchenko. More VR deputies and regional officials orientated to the President could begin to leave NSNU en masse soon - there are rumours of resignation letters lying on VR speaker Yatsenyuk's desk already. Who will join them from the other parties, LEvko wonders?

The 'democratic coalition' in the VR, and Tymoshenko's government are now looking highly vulnerable - making it particularly tough for Yulka T. in Moscow ..

Monday, February 18, 2008

Rudkovskiy singled out?

Ex-Transport and Communication Minister of Ukraine Mykola Rudkovskiy has been released from custody today. He had been accused of misappropriation of state funds and flying abroad on private visits [including a flight with a former Miss Ukraine to Paris], allegedly at the expense of state budget.

An excellent piece of investigative journalism from Tetyana Chornovil in 'Obozrevatel' reveals just how frequently the 'offence' of which Rudkovskiy was charged is committed, particularly by members of the current presidential entourage.

In the last year of former president Kuchma's term of office, the total cost of "providing air transportation for higher state officials" was 25 million hryven. For 2008, the huge sum of 96 million hryven has being budgeted, for analagous costs.

E.g. on 8th December, according to 'Oboz', Mrs. Yushchenko flew to Rotterdam, together with a large group of representatives of the "Ukraine 3000" charity, on what was supposed to be a two-day 'working visit', at a cost of $15k or more to the Ukrainian taxpayer.

In other countries such 'perks' are strictly controlled. Wives of state officials have to pay for their personal transport themselves, whatever the purpose.

Several years ago, the wife of the-then British prime minister Tony Blair travelled to work by train [not chauffeur-driven limo, please note] to a neigbouring city to hear a criminal case. She's a judge by profession. She was in a hurry, and failed to purchase a ticket. As the result of being stopped by a ticket collector, she had to pay a fine and suffer the indignity of having the story 'all over the papers'.

Katya Yushchenko, it seems, picked up the habit of getting others to pay for airplane flights very early. There were many alleged reports that our old friend Dmytro Firtash chartered a plane for the first lady's American-Ukrainian family so that they could attend her 'hubby's' 23rd January 2005 inauguration. It was all arranged by a Yushchenko's chum, Oleksandr Tretyakov, and the $270,000 bill paid for by Firtash.

The only reason why Rudkovskiy finished up in prison was that as a Socialist, he lacks political 'krysha'. He may have even been exposed to punitive action for failing to 'accommodate' some of Yushchenko's new-found oligarch friends when he was minister of transport and communications..

p.s. The second part of BBC Radio's "Dancing With The Russian Bear - Pipeline Power" can be heard soon here. It contains some fascinating 'insider' details of what happened when Ukraine's gas was cut-off two winters ago in interviews with Naftohaz's Oleksiy Ivchenko and Gazprom's Alexandr Medvedev.

p.p.s. BYuT's popularity rating in Donetsk has increased to an all-time high of 13% - mainly at the expense of PoR. Sustained attacks on Tymoshenko from the president and his secretariat, and the blocking of parliament by PoR are counterproductive, boys.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Baloha's new project

President Yushchenko's Chief of Staff Viktor Baloha has terminated his membership of the pro-presidential 'Our Ukraine' party. His resignation statement was posted on the president's website on Friday.

He is one of 'Our Ukraine's founder members and one of the president's closest confidants, so this step was a big surprise.

"It is now necessary to look for new political instruments, modern forms of political dialogue, political competitiveness and interaction. It is necessary to strengthen the democratic flank, and to ensure democratic political forces can maintain an advantage over parties, who are trying to impose slogans of the past onto society,” wrote Baloha. He intends to play an active role in politics and revealed that he has "concrete political plans" [for the future].

The resignation has set off a flurry of speculation that this is the start of a fresh project to re-elect of Victor Yushchenko for a second presidential term.

Baloha's new political project could take the form of a centrist, liberal party which appeals to both Ukrainians in the eastern and western parts of the country. Its leadership could include those politicians most keen on grand coalition, and names such as Ivan Plyushch, Raisa Bohatyryova, Yuriy Yekhanurov, and even Arseniy Yatsenyuk have been mentioned.

Whether this project has realistic prospects, or whether it could spell the end for 'Our Ukraine', no one can yet say.

LEvko thinks that whatever happens, it will need significant new political figures to emerge 'pronto' if Tymoshenko is to be challenged. Her support is growing in eastern oblasts.

Getting Yushchenko back into office for a second presidential term is a huge political challenge, bearing in mind his current popularity ratings, but he is rumoured to now have some of Ukraine's richest oligarchs e.g. Viktor Pinchuk, Ihor Kolomoyskiy, and possibly even Rinat Akhmetov backing him.

The project would also mean Viktor Yanukovych leaving the battlefield and spending more time at his nearly-complete new residence firing assorted weapons on the shooting range, rowing around the islands on its artificial lakes complete with powerful fountains and waterfall, or plucking the grazing ostriches and llamas.

[Yanukovych is known to enjoy blasting wild boar and the occasional mushroom-collector to bits, so perhaps these animals are being bred for the purposes of the first hobby mentioned..who knows]

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Muted response in Ukraine to Putin's comments on NATO

Yesterday's and today's comments from Vladimir Putin on possible retargeting of its missiles against targets and objects in neigbouring countries, including Ukraine, "which we consider threaten our national security", have resonated through the world's mass media.

Curiously, in Ukraine, as a contrast, the response has been muted. An article on the "4post site" reveals Putin's muddled thinking, and suggests other possible reasons for his rather bellicose statements.

During his joint press conference with Yushchenko on Tuesday, his first comment was in response to a question about the possible appearance of a NATO base in Sevastopol. The Ukrainian consitution forbids any foreign military bases to be situated on its territory [with the exception of the Russian naval base in Sevastopol] In fact, there is not such thing as NATO bases. Co-operating member countries have their own military bases in their own countries.

Today's follow-up comments from Putin may have been in response to Condoleezza Rice's "reprehensible rhetoric" observation.

"4post" asks why Putin did not complain when, in 2003 the Ukrainian parliament passed a law "on the principles of national security" in which the country officially declared its aim to join NATO. The bill was supported by Party of Regions at that time.

In 2006, one of the points of the Yushchenko/Yanukovych 'Universal' was an affirmation of their joint desire to pursue Ukrainian integration with the European Union, NATO, and the World Trade Organization.

In the 1994 Budapest memorandum, the United States, Russia, Great Britain, Germany and France gave Ukraine security guarantees in exchange for Kyiv's renunciation of its nuclear weapons. In view of this, Putin's remarks look rather premature.

Putin may be trying to induce a siege mentality amongst the Russian electorate ahead of presidential elections in a few weeks time. He may also be attempting to polarize Ukrainian society over the NATO question even more - hence the muted response from the Ukrainian pro-NATOites who do not want to rise to the bait and make matters even worse. Putin's remarks may have even helped their cause a little.

LEvko's view is that in their heart of hearts, a majority Ukrainian politicians are not too keen on NATO. They do not believe absolutely that other NATO countries would rush to their rescue, if they were to be attacked by one of their neighbours. They associate the US's and its allies' failure in Iraq with NATO. In their eyes, NATO membership for Ukraine would be a one-way street.

The mysterious Badri Patarkatsishvili

The 'colourful' Georgian billionaire, Badri Patarkatsishvili, died today in London, possibly of a heart attack. British police are treating the death as "suspicious" and will unquestionably conduct a thorough investigation.

EDM provide an excellent biography of the man. One portion of it intrigued me: “former KGB and FSB officer Andrei Lugovoi, the suspected assassin of Alexander Litvinenko in London, was Patarkatsishvili’s chief bodyguard and remained a close friend over the years."

By coincidence, several months after president Yushchenko's alleged poisoning during the infamous 'last supper' at Ihor Smesko's dacha, there were reports from an authoritative journalist that, apart from Yushchenko himself, Satsyuk, Smesko and Davyd Zhvaniya - a fifth man was present - Badri Patarkatsishvili...

'Oglyadach' runs a story today describing a scandal that has been recently swirling around Badri P.

A local Georgian newspaper printed a transcript of a recent conversation between Badri P. and a Georgian minister of the interior investigator. Amongst other sensational portions of the transcript, one passage could possibly be highly damaging to Putin's reputation. It also seems that law-enforcement agencies of Georgia may have doctored the text with particularly offensive passages, in order to drive a wedge between Patarkatsishvili and the Kremlin, from whom he may have been seeking support in his oppositional activities.

Patarkatsishvili accuses Putin of corruption when he was deputy mayor of Saint Petersburg, and reveals how Putin came to power.

"I want to describe to you an episode from my life. Maybe you didn't know, but it was I who introduced Putin into politics! He was in Saint Petersburg, working as Sobchak's deputy. He provided protection [krysheval] my St. Petersburg businesses. He wore one dirty green-coloured suit [all of the time]. When Yakovlev won the elections there, beating Sobchak, Yakovlev suggested that he remain, but Putin acted honourably and left city hall together with Sobchak. He used to call me twice a day, begging: "Badri, take me to Moscow - I do not want to remain here". Badri P. claims that he, together with Boris Berezovsky, 'pulled some strings', and eventually Putin became director of the FSB, and then, prime minister.

But their conflict began after the "Kursk" submarine disaster in which over 100 sailors died. There had been opportunity for Norwegians to save the stricken sailors aboard the submarine. Berezovsky was a close adviser of Putin's at that time, but when the "Kursk" sank, he could not convince the Russian navy top brass to act, and could not contact Putin who was on board a yacht sailing near Sochi.

Interesting what the British autopsy report will reveal..

Incidentally, quite a good report on Tuesday's Putin/Yushchenko press conference [in English] from 'Kommersant' here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Intermediaries on a 50/50 basis

A day of quickly-moving events and deals today, described in a rather stilted "Russia Today" video report here

According to UNIAN :

Naftogaz and Gazprom have agreed to work together without intermediaries

Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller has told journalists that RosUkrEnergo - a joint venture of Gazprom and two shady Ukrainian businessmen, will be replaced by an new intermediary company "created on parity principles" between the Russian and Ukrainian state gas companies Gazprom and Naftohaz Ukrainy.

Sale of gas on the Ukrainian market will be undertaken by a similar joint venture of these two same companies, replacing UkrGaz-Energo, which is currently owned by RosUkrEnergo and Naftohaz.

Miller also said that on Thursday the Ukrainian side will begin to pay back its debts.

The new companies will be created on a 50/50 basis. But where will they be registered? Who will be their directors? What about the details of the Putin/Yushchenko agreement?

Maybe it's the sceptic in me, but this reminds me of an exchange in a courtroom where a butcher was being tried for illegally adding old horse meat in his chicken pies.

The judge asks the accused: "Misleading your customers in this manner is a most serious offence. What do you have to say in your defence?"

"It wasn't that bad, your honour. After all, I was mixing the meat 50/50"

"Yes you were....Half of a horse to half of a chicken !"

Update: An article in today's 'Segodnya' says that after his meeting with president Putin, Yushchenko claimed RosUkrEnergo would remain in place at least until the end of this year - in other words defeat for Tymoshenko in her battle to eliminate RUE.

But, as I wrote above, a few hours later Alexei Miller announced that two new intermediaries were being set up to replace RUE and UkrGaz-Energo.

Gazprom press secretary Sergey Kuprianov tried to clear up these conflicting declarations and told 'Segodnya': RosUkrEnergo will be leaving the market as soon as the new structures are created - there are no contradictions in the statements of Yushchenko and Miller. In the next few days negotiations will take place, and it will be decided when the new joint venture will be created. This is a question of weeks".

'Segodya' points out that the new deal means the 4th January 2006 agreement, favourable to Russia, will become void, and speculates that in exchange Tymoshenko may have promised Putin to put the NATO business 'on the back-burner'. Or maybe they think in Moscow that Tymoshenko is on the way out before the end of the year anyway, and after this everything will return back to its place.

LEvko wonders whether the NATO Membership Action Plan letter was created just in order to gain a bargaining chip in the gas negotiations - or would this be just too Machiavellian a tactic?

Monday, February 11, 2008

"Independent" on Ukraine/Russia gas crisis

British "Independent" Leading article:

The stench of blackmail

Again, we see the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, insisting politics plays no part in this row and maintaining if Ukraine paid its bills, Russia would not be threatening dire measures.

Perhaps. Of course there is a financial aspect to the Ukrainian struggle with Gazprom, and it's hardly surprising Moscow should seek to maximise its income from its abundant energy resources.

But Russia has only itself to blame if the world looks at Mr Putin's explanations with scepticism. It was clear the last time Gazprom threatened to make Ukraine freeze in January 2006 that the Kremlin was determined to punish the electors of a former Soviet republic over which Russia still claims an imperial influence. Their misdemeanour lay in having had the temerity to elect a pro-western Orange government in direct contravention to Mr Putin's advice.

It is no surprise that Europeans and Ukrainians wonder whether, if the gas goes off once more this week in Kiev, it will be at least in part because Ukraine is pressing ahead with plans to join Nato, defying Moscow's views.

It would be a fine example of the Kremlin's black humour if the flames of Ukrainian cookers flickered and died just as their President, Victor Yushchenko, touched down in Moscow for what everyone predicts will be a difficult visit.

We can only look on and hope for the best, trusting in Kremlin assurances that Western European customers will not suffer for Ukraine's behaviour. The sad fact is that Europe has allowed itself to sleepwalk into an ever-growing dependence on Russia for its energy and that this relationship now circumscribes our ability to influence, let alone criticise, the Kremlin.

Earlier plans in the 1990s to diversify European oil and gas supplies from Azerbaijan were foolishly laid aside while Russia busily strained very muscle to increase its monopolistic position. Divide and rule have been Russia's watchwords, which is one reason why the Nord Stream gas pipeline is being built to Germany, bypassing a protesting Poland. The Kremlin has done well in striking new energy deals in the Balkans this year, too, undercutting any wider EU strategy. Only last month, it bought up the whole of Serbia's state petrol industry, NIS.

The political ramifications of Europe's economic dependence on Russian oil and gas are obvious: timidity in the face of Russian blackmail over Kosovo, passivity in the face of its often outrageous threats towards the Baltic states. When it comes to Ukraine, we can probably assume the two sides will somehow sort it out. But there is little we can do about it.

If you have a spare half hour, listen to part one of BBC Radio 4's "Dancing with the Russian Bear" here. [It kicks in after about one minute]

Saturday, February 09, 2008

High noon approaching..

Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller has requested Viktor Yushchenko assists in regulating the current Russian/Ukrainian gas crisis, the complex details of which are brilliantly explained at Kremlin Inc.

According to a posting on the president of Ukraine's website, Miller has sent Yush a telegram today declaring that even though he realizes contacting the President of Ukraine by this means is outside normal diplomatic protocol, he is appealing to the Ukrainian Head of The State to take account the "critical state" of the current crisis, and requests he assists in its resolution.

In particular, he accuses Naftogaz Ukrainy of unsanctioned tapping off of gas from main gas transit pipelines, and of delaying payments for consumed gas.

According to the telegram, if the problem is not resolved by 12 noon on 11th February the supply of Russian gas for Ukrainian consumers will be terminated, and, much more significantly, supply of gas from central Asia will be "limited".

According to the presidential website, Yushchenko has transmitted the contents of the telegram immediately to prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

In an accompanying letter to her, Yushchenko has demanded that all necessary documents between Naftogaz and the Russian side on deliveries of gas be signed by the end of Sunday 10th February. The President has determined, "that the prime minister must personally take all of the necessary measures and report back when this has been accomplished."

"Today's Presidential order to the government is the last impulse for concrete actions. We can delay no longer," says head of pres's secretariat Viktor Baloga.

Ukraine consumes about 70 billion cu.m. [bcm] of natural gas p.a., 3/4 of which it imports at $179.5 per tcm., so the the total value of Ukraine's annual consumption is approximately $12.5Bn. Gazprom claim 'the Ukrainian side' has debts of $500m accumulated since the beginning of the year, and $1Bn in longer term debts. In rough terms, this is probably less that a winter month's consumption, so Gazprom's attitude is heavy-handed to say the least, particularly as their figures may be dubious and are being contested. They have ulterior, more sinister motives for their gangster-like behaviour, particularly as Ukraine, until a few years ago, used to buy gas direct from central Asia. [See my previous posting.]

"Russia Today's" take, with some nasty patronizing comments, here. A portion :- "Sergey Mikheev from the Moscow-based Centre of Political Technologies says, “Nobody wants to completely cut off gas supplies to Ukraine and watch it dying of hunger”. [A Freudian slip, no?]

I hope that the Europeans who are busy setting up their own individual deals with Gazprom for supply of gas are taking note. Diversification and alternative supplies of fuel are vital if they are not to find themselves, sooner or later, in the same predicament as Ukraine.

p.s. Bonus 'Brownie points' to 'Stratfor' for predicting the current problems.

They foresaw that Ukraine would have to pay more for her gas imports when Turmenistan, perhaps by flirting with potential Chinese and European customers, managed to negotiate big increases in the price of its gas from Gazprom.

"..recent elections have returned the Orange coalition to power, Gazprom now has to pay more [to Turkmenistan] for its natural gas, and Ukraine’s current contract with Gazprom expires at the end of the year. It is almost inevitable that a fresh natural gas fight between Moscow and Kiev will erupt," said Stratfor last November.

Gas showdown imminent?

'Obozrevatel' runs this article following Friday's collapse of talks aimed at resolving the latest gas crisis between Russia's 'Gazprom' and Ukraine's 'Naftohaz Ukrainy'. Gazprom has stated, that deliveries of Russian gas to Ukraine will stop on Tuesday at 10.00 am Moscow time, if the Ukrainian side "does not regulate the situation around its debts".

Here are some portions:

Putin to decide fate of Tymoshenko's government?

Igor Didenko - the first Deputy Chairman of Naftohaz conducted negotiations on behalf of the government of Ukraine and his company.

Gazprom put forward five conditions, but details of these are not known. This means, in essence, Russia has presented Ukraine with an ultimatum: either the government of Ukraine satisfies these conditions, or the Ukrainian Kabmin will be is forced to acquire gas at worldwide prices - most likely, not from Gazprom.

Russian politicians and businessmen connected with the gas business say bluntly that President Vladimir Putin, and the management of Gazprom which he completely controls, will this time "go to the [bitter] end" with this.

It will be necessary for President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko to solve the gas problem in his negotiations with Putin. A high-ranking Russian government official stated without any reservations: "It is not possible to entrust the country to Yulia Tymoshenko. Running the government of Ukraine is not playing games with UESU [the energy company which Tymoshenko headed in the mid '90's]"

So, it is obvious, that the leadership of the Russian Federation has decided to use a gas map to finally decide the fate of the Tymoshenko government and the entire ruling coalition.

It is worthwhile noting that Yulia Volodymyrivna has herself 'set herself up' for this, since no one else asked to change the mediator for the acquisition of Russian gas. Specifically, it was from this that the gas crisis began.

When new Naftohaz chief Oleh Dubina opened the thick dossier on the transgressions of the management of Naftohaz, it never occurred to him that this would be the beginning of the disintegration of government, appointed by Tymoshenko.

'Russia Today's' 'take' on this story here

LEvko considers Putin will not gain any friends in Europe with these kind of deadlines...He should read the European newspapers from the 2005/2006 Russian/Ukrainian gas crisis. But hey, he doesn't care about that does he?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Yulka backs down

President Yushchenko today anulled the Kabmin's ruling to suspend Valentyna Semenyuk as head of the State Property Fund.

'Internet Reporter' asked some experts what, in their opinion, were the main reasons for the KabMin's removal of Semenyuk from the State Property Fund.

Here are portions of their replies:

"The main reason is to put into place a person 100% loyal [to Tymoshenko]....With the help of privatizations some oligarchs can be destroyed, agreements can be made with others, a third group could be subdued, and a forth group could be turned into allies. In this way the SPF will become not simply the centre of major privatizations, but an instrument in the battle for support of big business on the eve of major political and electoral events. So the question is not about appointments, rather about who will big business support - Yushchenko, or Tymoshenko."

"Yushchenko [by recinding the KabMin's decision to suspend Semenyuk] has been forced to defend a non-orange political figure, weakening his own position amongst the orange electorate."

Semenyuk was 'vidstoronena' [put aside, or suspended] and not 'fired' by the KabMin. It seems the KabMin does have the authority to do this on the grounds that Semenyuk is now the subject of a criminal investigation. The SPF is one of the key state executive organs, and the government does not want it to be under the control of a member of the de-facto opposition."

The response from the government right now is to accept the president's decision. "We will carry it out," said Tymoshenko's deputy PM Oleksandr Turchynov, adding, "with this ukaz the battle against corruption, and shadow privatizations, has been stopped [in its tracks]. Hopefully, [only] temporarily."

Earlier in the day, on a visit to the soon-to-be-privatized strategically important Odessa Portside Factory, Tymoshenko also declared that she would abide by the president's ruling, but that it would, in actual fact, permit corruption to continue.

Turchynov cynically explained: "There is no conflict with the government. We constantly sense the help of the president in all of our initiatives."

The truth is that the government need the money from privatizations to avoid resorting to the money-printing presses, or increasing taxes.

Incidentally, Tymoshenko's and Turchynov's response reminded me of the comments made by a soccer manager after a game which his team had lost due to a very bad refereeing decision. When he was asked by a journalist for his thoughts on the referee, he replied: "I make it an iron rule not to comment on referees decisions. I will not break that rule - even for that ****er."

p.s. Gazprom is threatening to cut natural gas supplies to Ukraine on Monday Feb 11th.
We've heard it all before...

Update: on the latest gas thingumabob from 'Russia Today':

"Aleksandr Gudima, Ukraine’s Prime Minister energy advisor, says, “A week ago Ukraine's leadership officially decided to stop using middlemen like RosUkrEnergo. Russia, particularly Dmitry Medvedev, backed our decision. They have to understand it takes more than a day to cancel these legal contracts. I am sure we'll pay all our debts in the next few weeks,” he adds."

Why pay RUE when they're are going to be dumped anyway, right? Or maybe all these threats are just "economic corrective measures" being taken by Russia resulting from Ukraine's sniffing around NATO again.

Pres and PM clash again..

Since Yulia Tymoshenko was appointed PM, she and president Yushchenko have waged a continuous cold war over many matters. He wants to sack the head of Oshchadbank, she wants to get rid of RosUkrEnergo. He wants to prevent privatizations of the Oblenergo's, she's not keen on NATO. And there's a battle over the Prosecutor General.

But today yet another, maybe even more serious conflict has occurred over the KabMin's removal from duties of the head of the State Property Fund, Valentyna Semenyuk.
A detailed account in English from Reuters here.

The president's chief of staff, Viktor Baloga, immediately denounced the KabMins' ruling, calling it illegal, and said Yushchenko would overturn the decision if the government did not rescind it.

"This is not an issue of personalities. The removal of V. Semenyuk violates the constitution," he said in a statement posted on the official presidential website. "Changes at the head of the Fund clearly amount to lawlessness...The head of state cannot simply close his eyes to violations of constitutional norms."

Yet again the president is hiding behind the head of his secretariat, who is doing his dirty work for him.

An article in 'Ukrainska Pravda' by the excellent Viktor Tsyvokunya explains why this latest spat could be really serious.

The KabMin made their decision to suspend Semenyuk after a deputy GenProkurator had notified them that a previous decision not to open a criminal case over the privatization of Luganskteplovoz [about which I have posted several times] had been over-ruled.

Tsyvokunya makes the following points:

The presidential secretariat itself is not a constitutional organ, so that body is not qualified to make such statements. The president should have made the declaration himself.

The president has acted unconstitutionally several times in recent months too, e.g. when dismissing the V.R. and sacking members of the constitutional court.

Whether Semenyuk was suspended according to the consitution is a matter for the constitutional court. The secretariat's statement is highly prejudicial.

Just a day before, the president appointed an old crony of Baloha's from his home oblast of Transcarpathia to the constitutional court.

The true reason for the secretariat's instant response to the KabMin's decision on Semenyuk is simple: While Semenyuk remains head of the State Property Fund she provides a guarantee that the businesses of Yushchenko's new oligarchic pals are safe.

Tymoshenko needs her man, Andriy Portnov to start the privatizations in order to replenish state coffers depleted by the partial return of savings lost during the fall of the Soviet Union.

First piece of business would be obtaining a fair price for Luhanskteplovoz..and second, for Dniproenergo which was purchased at a knock-down bargain price by..Rinat Akhmetov.

"The tension in relations between the prime minister and the president and his team is growing day by day, which for many evokes a feeling of imminent denouement. The situation is complicated by the crisis from which the VR is unable to extracate itself." says Tsyvokunya.

LEvko thinks Yulka is playing a high-stakes poker game, but her popularity in the country is increasing, so in some ways she is in a win-win situation.

p.s. Today, significantly, big political beast Vitaliy Hayduk was appointed head of Tymoshenko's group of advisors. A V.R. session is needed for him to be appointed a deputy PM.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Bickering over NATO

On Monday, an international conference - "A New Ukraine in a New Europe", took place at the 'Hyatt Regency' hotel in Kyiv.

Lots of distinguised westward-looking euro-integrators from the Ukrainian government, and foreign guests attended, but, as Tetyana Chornovil reveals in her 'write-up' of the conference, the atmosphere was not entirely pleasant. There were plenty of disagreements and personal 'needle' between speakers.

The conference started on a upbeat note with opening statements from Ian Boag, the head of the European Commission's delegation to Ukraine, and by Ukrainian minister of Foreign Affairs, Voldymyr Ohryzko who said that Ukraine: "Is counting on a positive response to its request for a Membership Action Plan." This was followed by pleasantries via video from Javier Solana.

Next spoke deputy vice-prime minister for European Integration, Hryhoriy Nemyrya [a close confidente of Yulia Tymoshenko] who delivered glowing praise [in English] for the 'leaderene's' efforts in pushing for Ukraine's entry into NATO. He claimed that BYuT were the only party during the elections that had clearly stated the importance of Euro-Atlantic integration for Ukraine - the aim of which was entry into NATO. This caused surprise amongst the others present because at no public meeting during campaigning did Tymoshenko mention this aim. All that she spoke of repeatedly travelling up and down the country was the need for a referendum before any final decision on NATO was to be taken.

The next speaker, ex-minister of defence, Anatoliy Hrytsenko, quickly shot down all the previous fanciful and lofty talk. He claimed tha while Ukraine is probably more ready for MAP that most of the countries who submitted their MAPs in 1999, there was one major obstacle: and that lays in the heads of politicians.

After the president, PM and head of the VR had all signed the letter to the NATO heads to consider Ukraine's MAP at the Bucharest summit in April, he was 70% sure that the decision would be positive. "But now I would say that it is only 20%, because I do not see any serious support from the government for the campaign." He particularly blamed Tymoshenko for not popularizing NATO in the Ukrainian media.

"Why didn't Tymoshenko announce that MAP was [part of] 'the Ukrainian breakthrough? [the name of BYuT's political programme]. Why was the meeting with the general secretary of NATO [last week in Brussels] only announced a few hours before it took place? Why did she not take any journalists with her to the meeting?"

And why had she still not explained to voters why she actually signed 'the letter'.

According to Hrytsenko, co-operation with NATO actually grew more under Yanukovych's government. When he finished everyone applauded passionately..except for Nemyrya.

The current minister of defence, Yuriy Yekhanurov, supported his predecessor Hrytsenko, explaining that remaining neutral for Ukraine, would be even more costly that joining NATO.

The shadow minister of foreign affairs, Konstyantyn Hryshchenko put forward PoR's line on NATO membership, but said he would not do this in English, "because there are already enough problems understanding the question of NATO in our own nation."

Many representatives from the embassies of NATO countries attended. The Polish embassador even claimed: "the greatest unity in Ukraine for entry into NATO existed in Kuchma's time." But former minister of foreign affairs, Borys Tarasyuk retorted that: "A colleague of Yanukovych had told him that they were sure that no-one would admit Ukraine into NATO, so the declarations at that time were only made to break the international isolation of Kuchma."

Other speakers complained of the domination of Russian media particularly televisual media, in Ukraine, which hindered presentation of a case in favour of NATO.

The US ambassador summed up his address saying, "If you want to join NATO, you should first [really] want to join NATO.."

LEvko thinks the blase optimism of some western commentators on Ukraine's quick accession to NATO is misplaced. But it will happen, eventually.

p.s. Yanukovych has been rather quiet lately. A man with his physical attributes would have been useful in the VR - where proceedings have been paralyzed yet again over NATO. Yanik is well known for possessing a 'useful pair of fists'.

He is to chair a meeting of the opposition on Wednesday afternoon. My bet is PoR don't quite know where they are going right now.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Tymoshenko in Brussels

It was clear by Tymoshenko's demeanour throughout her recent visit to Brussels that [as most seasoned observers privately already know] she is personally 'lukewarm' on the idea of Ukraine joining NATO any time soon. 'Dzerkalo Tyzhnya' provides details:

Her basic message at all her meetings in Brussels were: The NATO question is most sensitive for Ukraine - it causes major complications in internal politics and divides Ukrainian society. Therefore the deepening of relations with NATO must take place not in a revolutionary, but in an evolutionary, step-by-step manner. And at the present stage it is necessary to conduct multi-sided public discussions on the participation of the country in collective defence systems, and also to promulgate a broad information campaign on NATO.

But Tymosenko never expressed her own personal opinion in these matters in Brussels. Even in the European Parliament she avoided answering a question whether she would take part in this public discussion and explain that entry into NATO would be in the country's interests.

"Dzerkalo Tyzhnya" suggests she will not do so, because this not in her own political interests. As for her step-by-step approach then the first step would be toward Moscow, where she is to go in three weeks to fight for the elimination of the gas middlemen. The second step is toward PoR, whose support may soon be required in her fight with the President. And the third step could be towards the electoral east, whose sympathies will be necessary for the realization of her central objective...[the presidency of Ukraine]

President Yushchenko must now use all of his power to try and correct the situation, particularly with the aid of the current of Head of the White House.

p.s. Maybe 'DzT' [which tends to be pro-NATO] will run the story in English soon.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

PoR in trouble

The Yushchenko-Tymoshenko 'Punch and Judy' show, played out in Davos, Brussels and Kyiv over the last days have diverted attention from internal problems inside Party of Regions in the eastern part of the country.

There have been rumblings of discontent in the party's ranks for many months. Broadly speaking, a rift has occurred between the pragmatic 'new Donetsiites' led by Ukraine's richest oligarch - Rinat Akhmetov, his trusty associate Boris Kolesnikov, [both or whom have become close to president Yushchenko and his secretariat, as indicated by Raisa Bohatyryova's acceptance of the NSDC secretary's position], and the 'old' Donetskites, led by the likes of Yanukovych and Mykola Azarov.

'Novosti' in an article entitled: "The split in PoR will end in its downfall", describes how since 2004 Yanukovych has been diversifying his business interests away from under the wing of Akhmetov. Akhmetov no longer requires political protection from Yanukovych, having received assurances from the president himself of the inviolability of his business empire.

In order for Yanukovych to maintain his electorate in Donbas in any presidential election, he has to distance himself from Akhmetov, because the latter has just become too close to the president's camp.

The article claims Akhmetov and Tymoshenko met immediately after she was designated new premier, and concludes: "How and on what conditions, the Donetsk oligarch will agree with the authorities about the principles for further co-existence will depend on how quickly the party of large Donetsk business - the PoR, will cease to exist."

Other publications also claim "PoR fraction in Donetsk are on the verge of splitting".

And inside sources of "Kommentarii" say that a pro-Russian group called "Donbasskaya Rus'" has been formed in the PoR-dominated oblast council. Its initiators were the Progressive Socialists, led by the Stalinist harridan Nataliya Vitrenko, but its formation was first 'examined' in the central PoR office in Kyiv', and an insistent recommendation [for its acceptance] was presented to the oblast rada head Anatoliy Blyznyuk - leading to a split in the PoR ranks.

The initial idea to form Donbasskaya Rus' emerged from the group orientated around Yanukovych. Blyznyuk found himself between a rock and hard place, with the rada PoR fraction split between those who support "extreme messages", and those who uphold a "constructive position", i.e. those associated with Akhmetov and Kolesnikov.

At the last session of the oblast rada, Blyznyuk revealed under pressure that Donbasskaya Rus' had been created but refused to introduce into the session's agenda the question of supporting a deputies' rally in Syeverodontesk initiated by a group supporting Yanukovych.

Meanwhile last Monday the leader of the so-called "Committee of Voters of Donbass", Aleksandr Khryakov, an organization, controlled Boris Kolesnikov, accused Donetsk mayor Aleksandr Luk'yanchenko of playing a dual political game and collaborating with Tymoshenko.

Lukyanchenko had declared that was pleased that Yulia Tymoshenko has shown herself to be the first premier, with whom it was possible to agree an acceptable level of deductions from the Donetsk local budget for the national budget.

The mayor is also in dispute with the oblast council because because they are refusing to finance the building of a subway system, causing a fresh conflict with the fellow PoR party member Blyznyuk.

LEvko suspects these shenannigans inside PoR may partly explain the president's secretariat's boorish and overconfident criticism of premier Tymoshenko, and also Tymoshenko's odd remarks recently on possible co-operation with PoR.

Friday, February 01, 2008

The president's secret place

Intrepid journalist Tetyana Chornovil has being doing more snooping around the dachas of Ukraine's 'great and good'. Her target last August was Viktor Yanukovych, when she exposed his cynical and greedy abuse of office.

Now today's 'Obozrevatel' publishes details of the same journalist's investigations in the secretive "Koncha-Zaspa" district of Kyiv - the Mount Olympus of Ukraine's political elite.
An article, entitled: "The secrets of Koncha-Zaspa - part 1", includes photographs of president Yushchenko's residence, where he lives when not working. It is never been seen by 'lesser mortals'. There are no known official photographs this place.

It was built by former president Kuchma, who now lives very comfortably just a few doors away in a newly-built prestigious dacha. All of these buildings are protected by huge security walls, but Oboz reporters managed to get a look by crossing over a frozen lake. It is the electorate and taxpayers who pay for the upkeep of these places so surely they deserve to at least know what they look like, don't they?

The article compares the Ukrainian president's hidden residence with that of the president of the United States, who lives quite openly in the White House.

Similary, the British prime minister lives 'over the shop' in a rather small apartment at 10 Downing Street. If a British prime minister loses an election or resigns, a furniture removal truck arrives a day or two later, and he, or she leaves. That's it - there are no perks once you're gone.

It has been known for a Chancellor of the Exchequer [minister of finances, who lives next door at 11 Downing Street], to personally drive a self-drive hire van with his belongings away from the official residence, once out of office.

Somehow I cannot see Yushchenko behind the wheel of a truck filled with his family's stuff some day driving out of Koncha-Zaspa. The orange revolution seems a long way away.