Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Ukrainian political battle could hit European gas prices

This excerpt from an interesting article entitled:

"Ukrainian political battle could hit European gas prices" from today's British 'Daily Telegraph':

"President Yushchenko and Prime Minister Tymoshenko, former allies since the Orange Revolution in 2004, are locked in a mounting conflict over the price of the gas that is piped across the Ukraine. The country's role as the transit country for 73pc of Western Europe's gas being exported by Russia and the CIS countries makes it vital to the EU's energy markets. What happens in the Ukraine affects what happens further west.
At the heart of the conflict is Tymoshenko's desire to abolish an intermediary arrangement that currently involves gas coming from Russia passing through a Ukrainian company called RosUkrEnergo. Instead she plans to buy gas directly from Russia and the CIS countries, through NaftagasUkrainy, controlled by her government. This is a move that most independent analysts agree will raise the price of gas for consumers in Western Europe.

"Such a course, abolishing a middleman, will increase the price of natural gas and will cause instability in the Ukraine", according to Lidia Lowson at the American Centre for Political Monitoring. "From this instability Tymoshenko will be able to impose her own middleman to calm the situation. That man will be Gayduk.

When contacted, Gayduk's office said he was unavailable for comment.

The reason that the price of gas will rise if bought directly rather than through an intermediary is that its price will be fixed by governments - principally Ukraine's and Russia's - rather than by organisations that operate through commercial criteria.
"Without an intermediary, the governments of Tymoshenko and [Dmitry] Medvedev will be able to dictate prices," Inna Weiss of the Central Group of European Political Monitoring says. "With the existing situation there is a clear interest in co-operation and good relationships with Western Europe. That is what Yushchenko represents."

Is it just me, or is there a whiff of gaseous spin in the air? Would the Kremlin ever permit Ukraine to sell gas westward?


Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Viktor Baloha, on the President's website yesterday accused BYuT of co-operating with the Communists in a report entitled: 'Tight relations between BYuT and the communists are ever more clearly defining the contours of the new majority in the Verkhovna Rada'.

He claims the two parties, together with a portion of NUNS will be forming a new coalition.

He mentions the betrayal of Oleksandr Moroz's Socialists in 2006 in favour of PoR and claims, "Now it is BYuT that find themselves in the role of traitors in the coalition of democratic values.."

He criticizes BYuT for supporting Davyd Zhvaniya, whom the President accused recently of being implicated in his poisoning [After nearly 4 years the Pres. remembers, hmm....]

He comments on Tymoshenko's absence for the commemoration of 1020 years since the conversion of Kyivan Rus' to Christianity thus: Yulia Tymoshenko explained her absence with various excuses: at first it was illness, then later other important circumstances, finally a vacation. "Is it possible that the leader of government adheres not to the orthodox faith, but to some other faith, maybe shintoism or buddhism?" This final snide, rather offensive comment says more about Baloha than Tymoshenko..

Lytvyn returning into the spotlight

'Kommentarii' run a story shedding light on Volodymyr Lytvyn's attempt to return to the top flight of Ukrainian politics.

Here are some [loosely] translated portions:

Volodymyr Lytvyn has begun a p.r. campaign to regain his status as the all-Ukrainian peacemaker, but this time he will try to reconcile not the 'white and blue' Party of Regions and the 'Orange' camps, but rather NUNS and BYuT. The Lytvyn Bloc [LB] press-service has hinted that the Lytvynites are prepared to take part in the reformatting the ruling coalition.

The LB have been speaking about possible participation in the reformatting of the coalition for a long time already. Lytvyn not unreasonably hopes that his engagement as a peacemaker between BYuT and NUNS may improve his national image.

The reality is that the conflict between the prime minister and the President has reached deadlock. On the one hand, Yulia Tymoshenko leads a semi-legitimate minority coalition from which could leave, at any moment, tens of deputies linked to the President's Secretariat on Bank Street. On the other hand, the President's Secretariat, even though it has the means to bring down the 'democratic' coalition, is absolutely not capable of creating a new majority. So both the President's Secretariat and Tymoshenko are looking ever more often toward Lytvyn as a possible ally in their coalition. Both think that Lytvyn would rather help them than the other.

Until recently the LB fraction has operated more closely on political policy with head of the Pres's Secretariat, Viktor Baloha; however the refusal of the Lytyvynites to support the vote of no confidence in PM Tymoshenko in the VR, tends to indicate that the prime minister has began to work more closely with Volodymyr Mykhaylovych [Lytyvyn]. The government in their changes in the budget has satisfied a number of policy positions lobbied by the Lytvynites. The prime minister is also ready to promote one of Lytvyn's pet schemes - an all-Ukrainian forum with the participation of the President, the government, members of parliament and heads of local governments and local authorities. After the forum is held, at which he, of course would play the major role of chief moderator, a public contract would be signed. Lytvyn has also recently contemptiously called Baloha's 'Yedyniy Tsentr' project as 'an immature party', which should please Tymoshenko also.

Bank Street is, of course, concerned by the warming of relationships between Lytvyn and Tymoshenko and under no circumstances would agree to the entry of the Lytyvynites into a coalition as covert allies of BYuT. But for the prime minister, reformatting the coalition to include the LB fraction is not too favourable either— in that case she would not be able to restrict the small concessions to LB as mentioned above. After signing of any new coalition agreement several Lytvynites could enter the cabinet, while some NUNS ministers close to her, e.g. Yuriy Lutsenko, could depart. It's no secret that Lytvyn would very much like to return to the VR speaker's chair, which would benefit neither Bank Street, nor Tymoshenko who has now sorted out her relationship with Arseniy Yatsenyuk again. Neither Yulia T, nor Yushchenko and Baloha wish to see Lytvyn as head of the VR because he would use this position to play his own game by all means possible. So at the moment tentative links with Lytvyn, and situational help from his party in exchange for certain concessions suits both Bank Street, and Tymoshenko.

In turn, Lytvyn also benefits from the current situation. Volodymyr Mykhaylovych is not rejecting the strategic possibility of participating in the coalition with BYuT and NUNS with all the benefits accruing from this, but is taking into account possible public relations benefits. He is hoping to gain favour amongst the orange electorate as the leader of a third force and a wise moderator placed between a warring prime minister and President. In this respect he could even forgo his desire to be VR speaker if a tripartite coalition were to be formed.

Lytvyn may also be aiming for higher things. He may be setting himself up for participation in next year's presidential race, hoping to eclipse the the current president, Viktor Yushchenko, whose ratings continue to steadily fall, by presenting himself as the main moderate orange alternative to Yulia Tymoshenko.

According to 'Kommentarii', Lytvyn is also being encouraged by people from within the Kremlin who have promised to give him their blessing rather than to Yanukovych, Tymoshenko or Yushchenko. In this regard, Lytvyn's statements about postponing decisions on the debatable questions separating society, e.g.relations with NATO, language and religious questions, the Black Sea fleet and the historical past, do not appear arbitrary. All these policy messages from Lytvyn, and support from Moscow could be useful not only in presidential, but in parliamentary elections. Lytvyn believes that an early parliamentary election, as well as President election may take place soon, and he would like to start his election campaign before anyone else. For this reason the Lytvynites have disturbed the summer political calm.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Presidential website becoming a rag

Head of President Yushchenko's secretariat, Viktor Baloha, continues his risible criticism of PM Yuliya Tymoshenko in a recent posting on the President's official website.

He accuses the PM of working actively with PoR head, Viktor Yanukovych: "for the purpose of gaining advantages in the future presidential elections." In his opinion, Tymoshenko and Yanukovych: "frequently operate in a tactical tandem, despite their declared irreconcilable differences".

Baloha claims that: "It is quite likely that there will be joint voting [in the VR] by the ByuT and 'Regiony' fractions for a new Constitution."

"This strange union between the ruling coalition and the opposition has a wholly prosaic explanation: the dream of both Y. Tymoshenko and V Yanukovych for the presidential post. Both political forces cheer themselves in the hope that together they may achieve the acceptance of beneficial decisions for themselves. These calculations are also made in order to gain some kind of advantages in relationships with the current head of state. However, such a construct is illusory...It is not worth expecting that [these kind] of anomalous tandems can sway President Yushchenko's positions or obstruct him to embody his declared path for the country's development, economic reform and social changes which can provide an improved [living] standard for people," said Baloha.

Baloha [concerning her recent visits to Poland, and particularly Russia] continues : "She made generous promises...of co-operation in [areas of] sensitive interest with the two neighbouring states, particularly in economics. The aims of such assurances is the search for support in future elections in exchange for substantial dividends after victory."

"It is clear that Y. Tymoshenko right now is trying to run the country as [if it were] her own dacha. On her foreign visits, without batting an eyelid, she promises her foreign interlocutors that what they are interested in. The prime minister is not greatly concerned that these promises should coincide with the interests of Ukraine. After all, personal plans and ambitions are above all!"

As further evidence of Tymoshenko's presidential ambitions Baloha cites incessant attempts by her to place under her personal control international economic projects, started without participation of the KabMin. This, he claims, is necessary in order to change their participants and introduce 'friendly' companies, giving them prefence in exchange for their political and financial support. The benefits from such exchange are intended to fund the BYuT leader's presidential campaign.

LEvko says the President and PoR have been sniffing one another's **** for many months in the hope of forming the fabled broad coalition. But when BYuT and Regiony, the two biggest political forces in the country, speak to one another, this is considered an 'abnormal tandem'.

There is no evidence provided on the Presidential site to support the serious allegations mentioned above. Well over a thousand of Ukraine's brightest work at the President's Secretariat - they should be able to produce more than this kind of political agitprop. Baloha's desperate comments are not worthy of a nation's Presidential website.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Difficulties for any political 'third force'

Some portions from an article in the latest 'Kommentarii' weekly, giving reasons why any 'third force' is unlikely to emerge in Ukrainian politics any time soon, even though the current polarized 'orange'-'white and blue' political set-up that sprung forth after the Orange Revolution has not produced much benefit to the country:

"One of the central problems for the forces who have pretentions to be a 'third alternative' is the absence in their structures of charismatic leaders. No matter how interesting their party program is, Ukrainian voters invariably make their choice according to personalities. Competent election campaigns with promotion of party leaders have proven to be decisive. Because Ukraine has been living in what can be described as a permanent election campaign race in recent times, new forces never have the opportunity to shine, and if they do, the main political heavyweights 'buy them up', and the existing organizational structures of any third force are merged or absorbed by the major players.

The second problem for 'third forces' is even more difficult — they do not propose practically any alternative ideological messages. At best they manage to develop creative ideas already instigated by the leading political players, and at worst they merely plagiarize them. The thesis, 'they are all bad, and only we care about the interests of the people', seldom finds an adequate response in the hearts of electorate, more likely, it creates even more scepticism. And Ukrainian votes tend to vote only for parties that have solid prospects for entering parliament.

Finally, the the third problem for 'third forces' is the bi-polarity of the Ukrainian politicum, looking either towards the West, or to Moscow, where there is simply no place for any alternative third view. The maximum that can be be hoped for by those entering the big game and who want to 'graze' on either Pro-Russian, or westernized electoral fields, is to steal votes from the true keepers of these two vectors. Moreover, while the definitive geopolitical choice for Ukraine is undecided, political struggles cannot turn to everyday matters, and the creation of an effective project geared to the needs of a certain social group, is simply unreal.

There are many examples in the country's contemporary history where movements based on agricultural workers, youth, feminists, and even ecological movements were only ever marginal. Besides, there have been separate sections for quite a while already for all these target audiences in the programs of the 'first' and 'second forces."

Also from 'Kommentarii', this:

Economic problems of Russia's Fifth column' in Ukraine.

In the light of a new wave of political, economic and informational pressure from Russia on Ukraine it is becoming clear that the Kremlin has no-one in Ukraine to promote its anti-Ukrainian messages. In earlier times Party of Regions would loyally repeat them, but now support for the Russian initiatives in the 'blue and white' camp can be heard only from isolated, withered voices.

Recent statements from Moscow have put 'Regionaly' in a rather uncomfortable position. This is revealed by the opinions of PoR leader Viktor Yanukovych who stated that the Russian State Duma statement on the possibility of revision of wide-ranging Russian-Ukrainian agreements were an unpleasant surprise. The declaration of the vice-premier of the Russian Federation Sergey Ivanov, that Russia will be compelled to respond to Ukraine's entry into NATO with the introduction of a visa regime for Ukrainians, was self-consciously called by Viktor Fedorovych, as "just a proposal".

It is clear that PoR has declined to make any firm statements, indicating an unstable internal situation exists inside 'Reginaly'. It's no secret that PoR's Ahmetov-Kolesnikov wing co-ordinates its activities in many matters with the Presidential Secretariat, which has its own views on the 'Russian vector'. Therefore it is not convenient for Regionaly right now to echo Moscow's opinions and enter into conflict with Viktor Yushchenko. In this context it is necessary to note that this conditionally"pro-presidential" wing of PoR controls a number of radically Pro-Russian organisations in Donbas, e.g the recently forbidden civic organisation 'Donetskaya Respublika', 'Svyatogora', and 'Union born by Revolution'. The Donetsk City Council Secretary Nikolai Levchenko who carefully cultivates an image of an ardent fighter with Ukrainian nationalism, is considered a protege of Boris Kolesnikov.

In Crimea there is a similar situation; 'Regionaly', having secured themselves at local authority level, do not see any economic reason for close co-operation with the Kremlin. If in earlier times financial assistance from Moscow was an attractive bonus for maintaining 'correct ideology', now there is less economic sense for the leaders of the Autonomous Republic to go into conflict with Kyiv. In order for the Kremlin to advance its policies in Ukraine it is compelled to work with political outcasts - The Progressive Socialists of Natalia Vitrenko, the Party Russian-Ukrainian Union, the Crimean Communist Leonid Grach and others. However these forces are only capable of making a lot of noise and creating an informational background, but cannot really help Russia in any way to lobby its interests in Ukraine.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Out for summer

So the dust covers have been placed over the chairs in Ukraine's parliament for the summer recess. Sittings will resume on 2nd of September. Yulia Tymoshenko's cabinet easily survived a no confidence vote today because Communist party and Lytvyn bloc deputies reneged on their promises to support an attempt by 'Regionaly' to bring down her government.

BYuT deputies had been alerted earlier in the week to the possibility of such a vote being proposed by a rare sighting of PoR deputy Rinat Akhmetov in the vicinity of the VR. Many of his party colleagues had already departed for their summer holidays to tropical islands but had been rounded up, in some cases by charter aircraft, for the vote. They were not best pleased.

But politiking will go on. The 'Yedynyi Tsentr' project is being wheeled out at a big meeting tomorrow - will it fizzle out on the launch pad?

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

PoR propose amending Constitution

Today Party of Regions presented their proposed parliamentary bill to amend certain articles in the Constitution of Ukraine.

The main points:
  • Non aligned status for Ukraine
  • A single 'vertical' executive power structure
  • Judicial reform
  • Russian as a second state language
A 'Regiony' spokesman, Oleksandr Lavrynovych, claimed that it was "quite realistic and possible" 300 deputies' signatures could be collected in support of the bill. This could occur even by next week.

Other observers described as "minimal" the chances of PoR's constitutional project containing the points above being passed through parliament.

PoR currently have 175 deputies in the VR. Maybe they should go back and redo their homework.