Saturday, March 31, 2012

"Ukraine’s Drift Away from Europe and the Western Response"

Listen here to the March 27, Center on the United States and Europe at Brookings (CUSE) discussion on the challenges facing Ukraine, the U.S. and the European Union.

In the first panel, Edward Chow, senior fellow with the Center for Strategic & International Studies; Nadia Diuk, vice president at the National Endowment for Democracy; and Brookings Senior Fellow Steven Pifer discuss current Ukrainian domestic and foreign policy. Brookings Senior Fellow Fiona Hill, director of CUSE, moderates.

In the second panel, Pirkka Tapiola, an officer with the European External Action Service, and Daniel Russell, deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, discuss the European Union and U.S. policy responses. Senior Fellow Steven Pifer moderates.

Essential listening to anyone interested in Ukrainian affairs...stick with it...

An important observation [from the transcript of the discussion]:

"Keith C. Smith from CSIS.. I don’t know Ukraine as well as the panelists, but I spent a long time as a diplomat and I made a lot of mistakes in judgment. I estimated governments wrong in, I can think of many, many cases; but after being... I was in Ukraine, Kyiv three months after the Yanukovych government, this one took over and somebody in the U.S. Government asked me to give them a summary of what I thought, and I said two things. One, I thought the level of corruption would increase, and two, that the main thing would be to make sure they never lose another election.

And I think that when we talk about actions by the government that are against their own interest, we have to put ourselves in their place, which is something I failed to do many times over my career, and I think that they see this as, no matter what, the most important thing is to make sure they never lose another election, no matter what, no matter what it takes.

And it think that that’s what their pattern has been from the very beginning, and paying off some debts, the debts to Dmytro Firtash, for instance, for his election support.

The first thing they did was put in jail Igor Didenko, which was a payoff for, you know, carrying out Tymoshenko’s order on gas -- moving the gas from his control to Naftagas’ control. And you can see this in a whole pattern of things. It’s paying off a certain campaign debt and ensuring that there not be a loss in the next election.

And I think that’s how they see this: as even more important than a balance between East and West or getting into the EU or anything else, quite frankly.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Don't believe what you read in the papers...

According to the staid and reliable 'Kommersant' business daily, Viktor Yanukovych and president Barak Obama, who were both attending the nuclear summit in Seoul, spoke together yesterday for just over four minutes. No separate room was prepared for them, and both presidents remained standing during their brief conversation. Yanukovych's meeting with European Council president Herman von Rompey and European commission head Jose Manuel Barrosso followed a similar format. They spoke briefly during a short intermission between pleniary sessions.

The White House described the Obama/Yanukovych meeting in a single paragraph:

"The President and Ukrainian President Yanukovych spoke today at the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea. President Obama expressed appreciation to President Yanukovych and the Ukrainian people for the complete removal of highly enriched uranium from their country as a sign of Ukraine’s continuing courageous leadership on nuclear security. The leaders agreed this is an important step towards securing all vulnerable nuclear materials and is an important milestone for global security. The President underscored the importance of demonstrating the vitality of Ukrainian democracy by ensuring free, fair, and transparent parliamentary elections in October. The President also raised U.S. concerns about selective prosecutions of the political opposition."

The big-selling pro-Yanukovych 'Segodnya' daily put an entirely different slant on their meeting. They 'stretched' the time the two presidents spent talking to "a little over 15 minutes".

Commented on his meeting with EU leaders Herman van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso, Yanukovych claimed: "We were able to discuss the situation briefly, but could not execute the entire program of talks." This meeting took place immediately after the rendezvous with Obama, and because the discussion with the American president went on for longer than planned, [oh yes?..F.N] accordingly, Yanukovych's conversation with the Europeans had to be shortened. However president Yanukovych was not particularly upset, "I think there will be time for this. We agreed to keep in contact."

In another article, 'Segodnya' claims:

"Tonight, the Ukrainian president leaves Seoul in a good mood, because his stay in the city has revived hopes that the Ukrainian leadership's geopolitical plans may still be fulfilled as a result of meetings with U.S. President Barack Obama, and with the leaders of the European Union.
Since Ukraine's main geopolitical game is with Russia and the EU, the U.S. does not play a key role here. For Viktor Yanukovych is was important to merely obtain a stance of friendly neutrality from the American president, which he received in Seoul. There is no doubt that until the November U.S. presidential elections take place, the White House will not utter a single critical word about Ukraine, and this will be a signal to a global audience that Yanukovych can not be put on a par with Lukashenko, Chavez, or even president Ahmadinejad of Iran. For Obama, the president of Ukraine is a respectable leader of a democratic state about whom he has no complaints."

'Segodnya' and Yanukovych kid no-one. There will be no further Euro-integration until opposition leaders are released from jail. And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has on many occasions made the U.S. position most clear too.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Association of Ukrainian Banks slams National Bank of Ukraine's management

The Association of Ukrainian Banks today presented the President of Ukraine, Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine and its deputies, members of the Supervisory Board of the National Bank, and others, with an in-depth analysis into the activities of the National Bank of Ukraine [NBU] in its monetary and regulatory policy in 2011.

An accompanying letter, written by the president of AUB states: "We are forced to write to you because of threats to the stability and negative trends in the financial and economic, monetary and banking sectors, which are magnified by the mistakes made by the NBU's management in their implementation of monetary and regulatory policies, as well as in the violation by the NBU, of the Constitution, legislation, and President of Ukraine's decrees.

The AUB questions the professional competence of NBU's management and proposes they all resign...

Not much chance of this happening when the NBU is run by pals of the 'Yanukovych Family'.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Bankers being "bumped off" again

Several days ago a top Russian banker, German Gorbuntsov, was 'whacked' in London by a lone assassin, but survived. He remains in a critical but stable condition in an unnamed London hospital. The attack, which was front page news in the papers, may well be linked to an ongoing investigation into the attempted murder of another Russian banker, Aleksandr Antonov, in Moscow in 2009.

Yuriy Butusov, in 'Dzerkalo Tyzhnya', describes an almost identical event that occurred a day earlier, on 20th March, in Kyiv. The deputy head of the 'Soyuz' Bank, and, more importantly, founder of the scandal-ridden 'Rodovid' Bank, Serhiy Dyadechko, was also shot-up, but also survived.

Butusov suggests the attempt on Dyadchenko's life is connected to the collapse in 2009 of the Ukrainian 'Rodovid' bank - one of the biggest bank busts ever seen in Eastern Europe. The tab for losses of up to 35Bn Hryven was picked up by the Ukrainian state and its citizens when the bank was recapitalised.

The Security Service of Ukraine, [SBU], led by recently-appointed first vice prime minister Valeriy Khoroshkovsky, failed to 'nail' anyone for fraud even though in March 2010 the State Financial Inspectorate provided a detailed report on financial machinations by top managers at the bank to the tune of over 22 Bn Hryven. Khoroshkovsky, at the time, promised to personally control the investigation.

Only one guy has been 'brought to justice' so far - temporary administrator Serhiy Shcherbyn, who actually joined 'Rodovid' bank after it went 'belly-up'. The former president of the bank, famed Olympian Serhiy Bubka has never even been questioned, and a third founder of the bank, Denys Horbunenko, head of the bank's administration, now lives in London.

The main witness to the huge alleged bank fraud, multimillionaire Hennadiy Piskun, mysteriously fell out of a the 7th floor Donetsk apartment window on 29th October last year, while, allegedly, attempting to fix the air conditioning unit. It seems things got 'rather too hot' for him shortly after being questioned by the SBU, when he 'fingered' the bank's directors for theft of the money. Piskun's death has never been properly investigated so it is quite probable he was 'silenced'.

This was not the first 'accident' involving witnesses in the 'Rodovid' case. After being questioned by the SBU, the head of the bank's legal department, Olekshandr Ivakhnenko 'slipped in the bath' and received serious head injuries. He was hospitalised for many months.

Having survived his ordeal, Serhiy Dyadchenko has, unsurprisingly, fled the country with his family and may be seeking asylum, possibly in France.

Butusov, in his 'Dzerkalo Tyzhnya' article concludes: Organisers of financial scams are the people most invulnerable to justice in Ukraine - they are second only to the organisers of political scams. Witnesses who provide evidence are thrown out of windows, and appointed administrators are found guilty. No one takes responsibily for the collapse of banks. The legal system means nothing in the black hole that is Ukraine's financial system.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Beware the Youtube generation

Several days ago a criminal investgation was opened into the illegal felling of 9 hectares of forest in the elite Koncha Zaspa region near Kyiv. Over 4 thousand trees have allegedly been chopped down without permission by a company building an exclusive boarding school for local VIP residents. Photo of proposed project here

Because of the nature of the project, the amount of money involved, and the corrupt way these matters are arranged, the chances the project will be terminated are slim even though there already apparently exists a moratorium on the felling of trees in this ecologically important area designated solely for recreational purposes.

On Wednesday, a group of masked activists/vigilantes, maybe several dozen in number, took matters into their own hands. They raided and trashed the building site then posted a video of their action on youtube.

So far there have been over 20,000 viewings of the youtube video

Will these kind of protests become more common? There are many people out there seriously pissed with the way the country's elites disdainfully flout rules and regulations and mess things up for the regular joe.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Homo neanderthalensis observed in Kyiv

On Sunday 18th March, mayoral elections were held in the small town of Obukhiv near Kyiv. There were lots of observers present because of a continuous stream of allegations of' election fraud.

But the election will be remembered for an incident that took place between the slightly built NUNS parliamentary deputy Iryna Herashchenko [who at one time had been president Yushchenko's press spokesperson], and a bull of a man, PoR deputy Petro Melnyk.

Herashchenko attended as an officially registered observer; Melnyk was apparently there as the PoR's mayoral candidate's main adviser.

After a brief dispute, Melnyk grabbed Herashchenko violently by the waist and tried to physically drive her out of the polling station. She was rescued by observers who were man-handled themselves in the scuffle. Observers from the U.S. Embassy were involved and saw what went on as well. [Video of the incident here]

At a press briefing today the leader of the Party of Regions' fraction leader Oleksandr Yefremov announced: "I have just spoken with deputy Melnyk and he says he is ready to apologize to his colleague, if she apologizes for having publicly called him [a rude name] in the polling station." [He added that physical violence is not acceptable in any form, and suggested Melnyk apologize.]

Later, Melnyk said: "Of course it was wrong that I did not conduct myself quite correctly with a woman. But Iryna Herashchenko herself was also wrong because she refused to obey the polling station commission to leave the polling station committee room, and not interfere with the work of the commission."

"In addition, on the video clip broadcast on the internet, you cannot hear she called me a boor [or Ukr 'Kham']," added Melnyk.

He does not seem to understand his absolutely inexcusable behaviour merely confirmed Herashchenko was actually being tactful just calling him a 'kham'. She has nothing to apologise for...he deserves far, far worse. Yefremov's comments reveal how out of touch he is with contemporary world attitudes.

It is an iron rule of 'F.N' not to descend to name-calling of despicable politicians so I am not going to break my rule even for the bloated neanderthal pig Melnyk. He has no place in politics..Incidentally, parliamentary deputy Melnyk is also a university rector, a doctor of economic science ...heaven help his female students...

An omen for autumn's parliamentary elections?

p.s. More on the appalling Oksana Makar rape case, and untouchable 'mazhory' from 'EUobserver' here

Sunday, March 18, 2012

By their friends shall ye know them

The following has been posted on the Party of Regions' official website:

"Foreign political partners of the Party of Regions congratulated it on the XIII Congress, which took place in Kyiv on Saturday, March 17.

The congratulations on the Congress, during which it was announced the merger of the Party of Regions and "Strong Ukraine", sent:

- National Council of the Bulgarian Socialist Party;
- Central Committee of the Communist Party of China;
- Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam;
- Political Council of the Party "Yeni Azerbaijan";
- Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Party "United Russia" Boris Gryzlov;
- Chairman of "Prosperous Armenia" Gagik Tsarukyan.

Press Service of the Party of Regions"

And that's it....
Almost a 'Nobby no-mates' party then....

p.s. Other stories covered on the PoR site: "Serhiy Kivalov: Someone benefits from artificial worsening of relations between Ukraine and the Council of Europe" [?!]

Criminal lawlessness by 'mazhory' may eventually lead to civil disorder

Several days ago in Mykolayiv, 18-year old Oksana Makar was allegedly raped by three 'mazhory', sons of privileged elite parents, and then set on fire. She has had several limbs amputated and her life hangs in the balance. Two of the three suspects were released shortly after their arrest. Spontaneous ad-hoc protests sprung up, and as a result this diabolical event has figured prominently in news bulletins and political tv shows, and had led to much critical self-examination of Ukrainian society.

Since then, a similarly dreadful event has occurred in Simferopol.

Most Ukrainians agree that there now exists an entire caste of unruly untouchables who can simply pay off any law enforcement or judicial agency in order that their misdemeanours go unpunished. Barely a week goes by without their behaviour causing deaths amongst the innocent. Apart from the odd glib statement from ruling politicians, this shocking phenomenon remains unchecked.

Brazen flouting of the law, particularly by 'chinovnyky' and their offspring is encountered on a daily basis. Trust in the police, state prosecutors and judges is almost non existent.

My guess is the issue of law and order would figure very highly on the Ukrainian electorate's list of concerns - and yet these matters are not addressed by politicians with any of the seriousness encountered in Western democracies.

Despite being regarded of a nation of stoics, there are limits to what the man in the street will put up with. A Russian political analyst, Andrei Okara, in a 'U.P' blog, claims that recent resonant, despicable acts of violence against girls in Mykolayiv and Simferopol could be a detonator for public anger in Ukraine:

"If it were not for a student protest rally by 10 people before the regional department of Ministry of Internal Affairs' offices in Mykolayiv, the story would not have come to public prominence. Without this picket no-one would have gotten to know about it. All the detainees would have been released and the story would have been: the girl raped three boys from respectable families and then, realizing the gravity of her deed, doused himself with gasoline and set herself on fire. But the existence of a civil society ensured the events became publicly known and widely discussed," emphasized the analyst.

"These two terrible tragedies are an example of how everyday feudal reality intrudes into our lives. The cup of patience of the Ukrainian people is beginning to overflow. The story of [Yanukovych's] Mezhyhirya [palace], the story of the president's helicopter, the story of Peysazh Avenue [the brazen urban land grab of a public space in Kyiv by developers], now the story of these mazhory who raped and tried to burn a girl alive. As a result, a public vendetta against the government may spring up. This government does not know how to respond to these situations and their sole reaction - Yanukovych's social initiative, takes the form of bribing the electorate with a thousand hryvnia [in pre-election hand-outs]. Most people will recognise this as a crude attempt to buy the sympathy of voters, "said the expert.

"The latest horror was an analgous situation in Simferopol [where local residents discovered the body of a girl, that had been mauled by dogs. According to the Crimean media, the girl had been beaten, raped and left by the side of the roadway]. And every time it turns out that the children of those in government are absolutely immune from blame and punishment. It is always the victim's fault. This is a very powerful detonator for public anger and discontent which could create conditions for a revolutionary situation in Ukraine," concluded Okara.

[Note on the night of 9/10th March, three people allegedly lured 18-year-old Oksana Makar into an apartment after they had met in a bar. She was then serially raped. When the victim threatened to tell the police, one of the suspects began to strangle her. Believing that she is dead, the perpetrators carried her body to an abandoned construction site and set her fire. ]

Monday, March 12, 2012

Lesson for Verkhovna Rada from British parliament

Last month in the British House of Commons, Labour MP Eric Joyce physically attacked four politicians in a drunken assault. He was arrested by police and charged.

After a court trial last week in which he pleaded guilty, Joyce was handed a 12-month community order. He was lucky to avoid imprisonment; fined £3,000 and told to pay £350 to each of his victims plus costs.

He was suspended from his party; today publicly apologised in the parliament chamber for his behaviour, then resigned from the Labour party.

Read more and see video of Joyce's personal parliamentary statement here. Despite his behaviour last month he remains a man of honour.

In Ukraine he could have been promoted to the cabinet of ministers - maybe as Minster of Defence, just like Dmytro Salamatin, who lead a vicious assault against opposition deputies in the Verkhovna Rada just over a year ago, resulting in several victims being hospitalised.

At the time Yanukovych dismissed the whole incident as merely a disagreement between men, emotions that boiled a bit out of hand... Perhaps only a president with such a deeply violent, criminal past would not be embarrassed to appoint Salamatin to head the MoD...

More from 'F.N.' on this here

p.s. "Council of Europe examines detention conditions and ill-treatment by police in Ukraine. Jagland concerned about Tymoshenko’s health"

Today's CoE press release here

Tymoshenko's imprisonment could affect Euro 2012?

Letter from Eurasian Transition Group to UEFA chairman about current political situation and possible influence on Euro 2012's in Ukraine this summer, signed by many EU 'top bananas' here

..."Although the UEFA is not a political institution, we know that the organization's power does not end at the football stadium. But as the EURO 2012 was and is one of the most important sportive and social events in Europe, it also gives an example, how society, European organizations and sport can have an influence on political surpression in regimes like Ukraine.

You might heard that some managers of successful European football teams already announced, that they will boycott the Ukrainian EURO 2012, not traveling to the country, even not watching it on TV.

Therefore, we would like to ask you as the President of the UEFA not to close your eyes on what is happening in the Ukraine. Please mention the issues of political suppression and injustice in public, talk about it with Ukrainian officials and the government..."

Friday, March 09, 2012

Who is going to pay for the pre-election carrots?

In an excellent bni analysis article, Graham Stack, explains:

"Ukraine's foreign exchange reserves, essential to supporting the country's fixed exchange rate, have fallen by nearly one-quarter since August, and are now hovering at only a fortnight over the three-month import cover regarded as minimum. With global steel prices on which Ukraine depends continuing to slide and the price of Russian imported gas soaring, it is time for Kyiv to look for external help – but that's easier said than done.

Ukraine's central bank, the National Bank of Ukraine (NBU), reported March 6 that its forex reserves had fallen to only $31bn, which it said is sufficient to finance imports of goods and services for only three-and-a-half months. The central banker's rule-of-thumb says that three months import cover is a minimum to support a currency, giving Kyiv a fortnight to put things right..."

Stack concludes:

"Ukraine's best bet now – aside of course from releasing Tymoshenko and Lutsenko – is that the newly-elected Putin, looking to get off to a good start with Ukraine and his foreign policy, might now choose to soften these conditions [relating to the price Ukraine pays for Russian gas] in return for some woolly commitment by Kyiv to the Eurasian bloc.

Putin has said his first foreign visit as president would be to a CIS state and this likely means Ukraine. But Putin's inauguration is scheduled for May, so he won't make it to Kyiv in his new role for another six weeks. And with the pace of events heating up as Greece and Europe wobble, this may even prove too late for Ukraine."

The EU are in no mood to sign political-association and free-trade deals while opposition leaders remain in jail. The IMF feel the same way about additional loans for the same reason.

Meanwhile, earlier this week president Yanukovych announced a $2Bn pre-election 'blow-out' to boost Party of Regions' sagging prospects in the October 28th parliamentary elections.

Something is gonna have to give...

Meanwhile the macabre Tymoshenko soap opera continues..
Deutsche Welle report:

"Tymoshenko needs treatment outside of confines of prison, say German doctors.

According to German doctors, the former Prime Minister of Ukraine Yulia Tymoshenko is so seriously ill that she needs treatment [that can only be provided] outside of prison.

Representatives of the Berlin University Hospital "Charite", who examined the former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko believe that because of the severity of her illness, she needs urgent treatment, "if at all possible, outside prison". To conduct the necessary therapy according to international standards inside prison is impossible "because of its complexity"...

Ukrainian and German doctors "came to a consensus" on the diagnosis of the former prime minister. Tymoshenko feels very ill and needs immediate treatment.."

The former PM has complained of health problems for many months. All of this begs the question: "Why has she not received the best treatment possible for all of this time?

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Five EU Foreign Ministers blast Ukrainian authorities

Carl Bildt, William Hague, Karel Schwarzenberg, Radoslaw Sikorski and Guido Westerwelle - the foreign ministers of Sweden, Britain, the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany - have today written a letter to the 'New York Times'.

"We cannot, however, conceal our growing concerns regarding the state of democracy in Ukraine. Independent media and civil society organizations report pressure from the authorities.

In late 2010, criminal proceedings were started against a number of leading opposition politicians. And a year later, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in prison for allegedly abusing her office, following a trial that has been widely criticized both in Ukraine and abroad as not meeting international standards.

Moreover, more than a dozen other opposition politicians are facing similar charges. On Feb. 27, the former minister of the interior, Yuri Lutsenko, was sentenced to four years in prison after another disappointing trial.

These trials bear the marks of politically motivated and selective justice. According to independent experts, they have been conducted in a manner that has failed to respect the principles of the rule of law and the human rights of the defendants.

These developments are incompatible with Ukraine’s own European choice. Democracy, human rights and the rule of law are the values underpinning the association agreement and Ukraine has already committed itself to them in the framework of the O.S.C.E., the Council of Europe, and also vis-à-vis the E.U. Thus, it is fair to say that the association agreement has been imprisoned, and the Ukrainian leadership is holding the key. "

Yanukovych has made his decision. He is prepared to pay the price of isolation rather than release his most feared political opponents from prison.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Mafia state, or what?

Just over a year ago I mentioned how Viktor Yanukovych was "Building himself a private Kingdom of Monaco - in Crimea", complete with a 900 metre length of private beach along one of the most beautiful and desirable parts of the Black Sea coastline.

This beachside mini-kingdom is based around a former recreational holiday centre called 'Mis Aiya' which had previously been owned by Ukraine's national highways agency - 'UkrAvtoDor'. It was privatised at a knock-down price in the summer of 2007, just after major constructional improvements had taken place.

The purchasers are tightly connected to the two opaque shell companies, 'Tantalit' and 'Vidrodzhennya Ukrainy', who ostensibly own Yanukovych's infamous 'Mizhhirya' palace on the banks of the Dnipro riiver near Kyiv, and shell companies that own a large hunting hunting lodge, adjacent forests and hunting grounds, also near Kyiv. No-one can be absolutely sure who the true offshore-registered owner of all of this real estate is..but most reasonable observers consider it to be 'Yanukovych.. and family.

In 2006 Viktor Yanukovych was appointed head of the government for a second time, and a PoR parliamentary deputy, Volodymyr Demishkan, was appointed head of the highways agency 'UkrAvtoDor'. Almost immediately a decision was made to commence privatisation of this most desireable chunk of Crimea real estate.

Several months later, in 2007, Demishkan's son, Serhiy, was arrested, allegedly on a charge of premeditated murder. [Gruesome details from a previous blog of mine here. and an up to date report from 'K.P' here]. The victim, who had 'crossed' Demishkan jr in business deal, had a heating radiator tied to his back and was thrown into a canal to drown.

Demishkan Jr confessed to the offence when in custody, but once Yanukovych became president, he was released on bail.

Just a month ago he was found guilty of kidnapping and murder...and then released on the grounds he may be seriously ill with a terminal illness. As a rule, Ukrainian courts seldom take such factors into account when passing sentence. journalist, Tetyana Chornovil, who describes the Mis Aiya affair in a series of recent articles, provides one example: Judge Rodion Kyreyev, who sentenced Yulia Tymoshenko to seven years in prison last year, previously sent to prison a man suffering with hepatitis B and C, and who was HIV positive. The poor man was the only support for his elderly mother, invalid sister, and pregnant girlfriend. His crime? Stealing jewelry valued around $65.

Chornovil writes: "Was the compassion of the court shown to Serhiy Demishkan a coincidence? ...the court freed a killer whose father helped 'UkrAvtoDor' give up the highway agency's workers' holiday recreational the West such coincidences woud destroy the career of any highly-placed official.."

p.s. Just out: a new book entitled "The Man Without A Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin" by Masha Gessen

Read two reviews here and here

"Gessen speculates, the Russian prime minister suffers not so much from kleptomania as pleonexia, "the insatiable desire to have what rightfully belongs to others… He compensates for his compulsion by creating the identity of an honest and incorruptible civil servant."

Check out Putin's Black Sea palace here . Does Yanukovych suffer from the same affliction?