Friday, April 30, 2010

Watershed week in Ukrainian politics

The disgrace in Ukraine's parliament on Tuesday was a watershed in Ukraine's democratic development. Although there have been many physical altercations in the main chamber over the years these have almost always been mainly posturing, or 'handbags at 10 paces' as they say in England. Deputies who exhibited agressiveness to one another in public were frequently known to have cordial or workmanlike relationships in private because of business connections, frequent meetings in committees etc.

However last Tuesday many journalists and witnesses reported that those PoR deputies in possession of 'a useful pairs of fists' , and, more sinisterly, some unidentified persons inside the walls of the parliament, specifically targetted older, more moderate, non violent members of the opposition for 'physical treatment', particularly those of the NUNS fraction.

Many 'beefier' BYuT opposition deputies stood idly by and watched without coming to their aid, maybe because of an unwritten rule whereby bullies 'ne zachipayut' other bullies.

In one of the worst incidents [video here ] Oles' Doniy, a most mild-mannered, academic NUNS deputy, was severely beaten about the head. He is still in hospital, confined to a wheel-chair, and suffering from concussion. Readers can make their own minds up whether the attack on him by PoR deputy Vasyl Stelmashenko, was unprovoked or not. Stelmashenko, is allegedly a reformed 'kriminalny avtorytet' [a.k.a. 'Kartaviy], who was involved in illicit alcohol production and tax evasion several years ago. He spent some time abroad but returned to Ukraine in 2000. He entered the VR a few weeks ago on this appropriate C.V.

Disgracefully, Volodymyr Sivkovych, current Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine in charge of the security forces, was standing just behind him studiously watching Doniy being 'whacked'. President Yanukovych's son, also a PoR deputy, [chip of the old block?] was allegedly involved in beating opposition deputies too.

I do not intend to defend the opposition's actions, egg throwing etc., save to say that PoR, BYuT, NUNS and others have often disrupted the working of the VR with similar protests so Tuesday's performance was not beyond the bounds of what happened many times before, but there has never previously been such a violent reaction from the ruling party. What was obvious was that Yanukovych had pledged to Putin that come what may, ratification of the Kharkiv agreement, 'gas for Black Sea Fleet base lease extension' struck the week before, would take place simultaneously in Moscow, Kyiv and Crimea.

I would not have been unreasonable for a debate to take place in the VR on this important issue before any voting. The government had nothing to fear, a majority in favour was assured, and a reasonable case could have been made to illustrate the benefits to Ukrainian citizens accruing from the deal, but for Yanukovych that would have been an impermissable indication of weakness.

Voting on that day was a farce in any case. Only 211 deputies had registered their presence at the start of the session, although 236 voted in favour of ratifying the Kharkiv agreement. Two of those voting in favour were in Strasbourg with the president at the time, a third in Western Ukraine, even though, according to Ukrainian law they have to present in person in the VR for their vote to be valid.

Reporters without Borders' wrote an open letter to Yanukovych a couple of days ago about their concern for Ukrainian journalists. Opposition politicians now have cause to be fearful too.

p.s. British Labour Party deputy leader Harriet Harman was fined £350 several weeks ago after admitting careless driving while using her mobile phone. Miss Harman, 59, was the first serving Cabinet minister in living memory to plead guilty to a criminal charge. In Britain there is [almost always] one rule of law for everybody...

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Yanik's cockeyed logic

At the Council of Europe on Tuesday a representative from Luxembourg asked president Yanukovych: "It seems that in Ukraine, a process of heroization of Stalin, and increasingly, a return to the Soviet interpretation of the Second World War, is taking place. Could this trend be supported by your Government too, and particularly by the Minister of Education? What are you doing, Mr. President, to stop this most disturbing process?"

In response Yanukovych assured those present that the Minister of Education's position fully complies with his own.

"These views are also radical, but one cannot not take account of holders of such views and ideas," said Yanukovych.

A Finnish representative asked Yanukovych about the Holodomor famine. Yanukovych replied: "These were the consequence of Stalin's totalitarian regime - this was recognised by all countries where the Holodomor took place..."

So he accepts Stalin was responsible for the deaths of millions of Ukrainian citizens' forebears - but it's o.k. to permit the erection of statues to Stalin and 'take account of the views and ideas' of those proposing such commemorative acts..

What a hero...

Friday, April 23, 2010

Phobia- and complex-ridden president

In Great Britain the current parliamentary election campaign is in full swing and in two weeks time parliamentary elections will take place. The biggest and most interesting stories in the media so far have been about the relative performance of the main parties' leaders in absorbing, hotly contested, full-blooded and lively televised debates.

I cannot but think back to the recent Ukrainian presidential elections, and Yanukovych's pathetic refusal go head-to-head in a television debate against his rival Tymoshenko ...he has no balls at all..what an ***hole..

Speaking of medical conditions, why is it that Yanukovych needs an ambulance to be constantly available wherever he goes?

As his multi-vehicle high-speed convoy taking him to the airport sped through closed-off Kyiv roads several days ago his ambulance was left some distance behind. In its attempt to catch up it crashed into a taxi, killing its driver and seriously injuring its two passengers, one of whom may have been a pregnant woman. [see previous blogs] Why the mad rush?

Several years ago the British prime minister Tony Blair and his Chancellor of the Exchequer [minister of finance] - now PM, Gordon Brown, visited the office headquarters of a large trade union situated on a busy main road about 100 metres from where your blogger lives. Although the visit was unannounced I saw several police and a film crew hanging about before the visit so I waited around too. Both of the VIP visitors arrived in a Jaguar limo which was escorted by a large 4x4 filled with plain-clothed security guys and a minibus filled with special patrol group police officers. Another minibus filled with police was parked discretely in an adjacent back-street. The PM and his minister drove up from a local airport in the normal road traffic stream - no sirens, flashing lights or anything like that. As they entered the building they chatted briefly, in a relaxed manner to some of the onlookers.

A few years before that I saw the late Lady Diana during her visit to a children's nursery in a run-down part of a neighbouring town. Again, no fuss, no big cavalcade or stopped traffic..

It' s probably true to say the more arrogant and despotic the leader of a country is, the bigger his escorting convoy of vehicles..Yanik should think about this a while...did he really need that ambulance?

Former PoR deputy and former close adviser to Yanukovych Taras Chornovil in a piece in 'U.P. has described the president as a phobia- and complex-riddled man terrified of assassination and public humiliation This may explain some of his behaviour.

Oh, and killing an innocent road user is seriously bad hex for him for the future...

WSJ reports this week's Medvedev-Yanik gas-for-Black Sea port deal thus: " [It] will allow Russia to keep a strategic military presence beyond its borders until 2043, a quarter-century beyond the end of its current lease for the naval base on Ukraine's Crimean peninsula. [While] Ukraine, hit hard by the global economic downturn, received a waiver of export taxes that will knock as much as 30% off the price of Russian gas over the next nine years."

What happens after the nine year period ends, which, surprise surprise, coincides with what could be the end of president Yanukovych' second term in office?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Killers on the road

Ukraine's ruling elites continue to massacre innocent road users in high-speed "accidents".

Yesterday morning the killer was the driver of a vehicle escorting president Yanukovych during his regular maniacal dash through closed-off roads in Kyiv.

I posted about the regular carnage on Ukraine's roads last November:

"In 2007 there were 9921 road traffic fatalities reported in Ukraine, 56% of which were pedestrians. So, over five and half thousand pedestrians were killed on the roads that year in the country.

In the United Kingdom by comparison, 2398 road deaths were reported in 2006, 21% of which were pedestrians, i.e. about 500 pedestrians were killed - 10 times less that in Ukraine, even though it has a larger population and many more vehicles on the road."

'Kyiv Post' published a by no means comprehensive list of 'prominenti' involved in such incidents last December.

President Yanukovych's chief spokesperson Hanna Herman's 17-year old son was killed in a high-speed crash last year.

What is it with these maniacs?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The President's bogus charity

In my previous blog I wrote about, "Tantalit Limited", and the "Renaissance of Ukraine" charitable foundation who, together with president Yanukovych, are leasing the 140 hectare Mezhyhirya complex for the next 47 years.

Mezhyhirya is the favoured residence of the president. Two anonymous offshore 'nameplate companies', on in Austria, one in Leichtenstein, stand behind "Tantalit Limited".

And it seems that the main beneficiary of the charitable foundation is the orphan Viktor Fedorovych himself.

Investigative journalist Tatyana Chornovil, in a recent article, revealed "Renaissance of Ukraine" are the registration holders of an imposing fleet of expensive vehicles which should be exclusively used by the charity in their work. One of these vehicles, a custom-built GMC Savanna passenger van, provided personal transportation for Yanukovych, and was often seen flouting traffic laws.

Chornovil's investigations indicate the charitable foundation's charity work is minimal - organising Easter children's egg painting competitions, donating sweets and children's books, and "encouraging young people to live healthy lifestyles and supporting youth organizations"..Quite what they are doing leasing large tracts of prime real estate is a mystery.

In most western countries such institutions are scrupilously regulated by government bodies, [e.g. in England and Wales by the Charity Commission] to ensure donors' contributions are properly spent, and recipients of aid are not defrauded. They demand financial accounts to check if charities have not set up merely to avoid payment of taxes. Comprehensive information about any registered charity is freely available to anyone - usually 'on the 'net'.

In Ukraine,"Renaissance of Ukraine" seem to fly 'under the radar'.

The founder of the "Renaissance of Ukraine" is Alexander Yurchenko, who is also chairman of the of the 'Zoryaniy' cinema complex where Yanukovych's headquarters are situated and where PoR frequently gather for party meetings and other business. The "Renaissance of Ukraine's" offices are located in the same premises as those of half a dozen business enterprises of notable PoR parliamentary deputy and close Yanukovych advisor, Eduard Prutnyk.

Today, when speaking about press freedom in Ukraine, president Yanukovych said this:

"...I emphasize yet again that as President of Ukraine I will always defend freedom of the press, will defend journalists and do everything possible to ensure that the authorities will be transparent and their actions and open to the press and to society."

Can these words be taken seriously from a man so closely associated with what is clearly a bogus charity?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Wallowing in corruption

Serhiy Leshchenko of 'Ukrainska Pravda' has shone more light on the Mezhyhirya affair in two recent articles here and here.

Mezhyhirya is a highly desirable former state residence on the banks of the Dnipro river near Kyiv. In recent years it has been 'distributed' between three participants in the following proportions: "Tantalit Limited" (129 hectares), "Renaissance of Ukraine" Charitable Foundation (7.6 hectares) and president Viktor Yanukovych (1.78 hectares). These three parties pay only a minscule nominal rent to the Ukrainian state for the land, which they lease until 2057. No auction or submission of tendering bids ever took place for use of these assets.

Serhiy Leschenko reveals 'Tantalit' is ostensibly owned by two offshore 'nameplate' companies - the Austrian 'Euro East Beteiligungs GmbH', whose founder is a stockbroker from Vienna, and the Liechtenstein 'Blythe (Europa) Ltd', whose founder is an Austrian lawyer.

Nominally, the official registered founders of " Renaissance of Ukraine" are two young ladies from Donetsk, one of whom, its seems, is a student. Currently, construction is in full swing on the charity's land of a large cultural and fitness center with saunas and bowling lanes. Tennis courts, and an underground shooting range are also being built.

'Tantalit' will be building on their patch an entire health and recreation centre; it will include a yacht club, a golf course, and equestrian riding club. Who is to benefit from these facilities is not known. President Yanukovych, who likes to spend as much time as possible at 'Mezhyhirya', proudly declares himself to be a keen tennis player and golfer. He is also very fond of hunting and shooting wild boar.

Yanukovych's paltry 1.78 hectare plot at 'Mezhyhirya' is surrounded by 'Tantalit's and 'Renaissance of Ukraine's properties, but, incredibly he claims he has no relationship to these companies.

In his inauguration address to the VR on Febrary 25th Yanukovych mentioned three times the great problem of corruption in Ukraine. In particular, he said: "The prerequisites for restoration of investors' and international financial institutions' confidence in Ukraine are: ensuring political stability, fighting corruption, establishing clear and, most importantly, permanent rules of relations between the state and business. Providing the first two conditions will be particularly difficult process, but I have enough political will to make them reality."

Has he the political will to reveal who is hiding behind his mysterious neighbours 'Tantalit', and why they benefit from the use of a large expanse of state-owned land whilst paying a tiny fraction of the proper price?

Will the National Anti-corruption Committee, which he set up the day after his inauguration, look into the entire affair? Or will Mezhehirya remain a stinking swamp of corruption in which the president continues to wallow?

Friday, April 09, 2010

Constitutional Court - a laughing stock

I was completely "underwhelmed" by the superficial, undignified and perfunctionary manner in which head of the Constitutional Court, Andriy Stryzhak, delivered his recent court's rulings: video clips here and here

The man can hardly speak properly..what an ***hole...

At a press conference later, commenting on the C.C.'s 180 degree turnaround on a ruling made by the same court in 2008 on formation of parliamentiary coalitions solely on the basis of parliamentary fractions, and not on individual deputies, Strizhak said, "Well, let us say tomorrow the political situation changes - the political state of affairs - how will the C.C. act? If so, let's wait for this tomorrow - and tomorrow we will interpret [matters], possibly, entirely differently as [we did] now."

No wonder his comments provoked giggles amongst journalists present..

Monday, April 05, 2010

Dmytro [Krippinovych] Tabachnyk

Controversial Minister of Education Dmytro Tabachnyk took part in last Friday's 'Shuster Live' programme. He responded to questions from students in Kyiv, Kharkiv and Lviv in a most disdainful and dismissive manner .

As I was watching it suddenly struck me the man has a marked resemblance to [and the charm of?] infamous wife-poisoner Dr Crippen [see photo]. More on the doctor and his colourful associates here

Its easy to see why Tabachnyk is so unpopular - he has an emotionless, chilly aura about him.

[Picture of Tabachnyk himself here ]

During the programme members of the representative audience aged between 18-29 were asked whether they "had come across corruption in the sphere of education". An astonishing 73% said they had. When asked whether this problem could be overcome and beaten, about half said it could not. For anyone that has passed through a western education system the first figure is almost incredible. Sadly, many Ukrainian higher qualifications must be assumed to be highly suspect.

p.s. A good article on Ukraine's education system and the problems it faces from 'K.P.' here