Monday, April 30, 2012

A likely motive for Dnipropetrovsk bin bombs

Last Friday several dozen people were injured as a result of four smallish explosions in the centre of Dnipropetrovsk. Their aim clearly was to injure and diorientate, create a media sensation, rather than to kill.

Several politicians from the ruling authorites vaguely hinted it was the work of the political opposition, while the opposition suggest it was the authorites who were behind the planting of the bombs, intent on deflecting attention from the furore surrounding Yulia Tymoshenko's maltreatment in prison. Others suggest radical elements, e.g. Crimean separatists, or even anarchists, may be responsible. However, rational commentators consider these theories improbable.

E.g. Dnipropetrovsk journalist Yuriy Reikhel, thinks the most plausible motive was settlement of scores between massively wealthy corrupt businessmen.

I have blogged before how thieves and gangsters from the early nineties still control Ukraine.

I have also blogged about Dnipropetrovsk property and construction magnate, Hennadiy Akselrod, who was shot dead near his home two weeks ago. He had been a close business associate of two of Ukraine's wealthiest oligarchs. One of the city's most prominent businesmen, he had survived an unsuccessful assassination attempt two years earlier.

For years there had existed a persistent, unresolved conflict between him and others who, between them, had managed to seize and divide up huge property assets that had once belonged to former PM Pavlo Lazarenko. The latter fell from grace a decade and a half ago, was tried, and remains in jail in the USA.

According to Reikhel, this conflict has been exacerbated by the greatly increased power of the Donetsk elite in the wake of Yanukovych becoming president. They are now steadily taking control of businesses across the country.

The events unfolding in Ukraine are merely a continuation of processes and events that took place in the '90's - a struggle between  the hard gangster style of Donetsk and the softer style of Dnipropetrovsk Komsomol alumni. The former are now in control - the explosions in Dnipropetrovsk could be a warning - we can mess things up big-time for you - on the eve of the Donetskiites greatest moment of glory, the 2012 Euro tournament.

p.s. Ukraine is being absolutely hammered on the Euros in Germany - check out this from Spiegel who say the event could be a fiasco, boycotted by Europe's politicians. Those who fly frequently to eastern Ukraine tell me: of Europeans who visit these parts it is Germans that easily predominate.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Who is winning the information war - Tymoshenko or the Ukrainian authorities?

The authorities wanted to show they were acting humanely by offering to treat jailed former PM Yulia Tymoshenko's ruptured spinal disc in a deluxe medical facility. They needed her to be in reasonable shape for the upcoming UESU trial in Kharkiv.

She was having none of this and was, allegedly, taken by force to the clinic last weekend..maybe assaulted. She declared she is on hunger strike in protest. All this has resulted in an huge stink in Europe.

A counter attack was quickly the form of a not absolutely convincing video broadcast nationwide showing a Tymoshenko-like figure, reasonably active, making her prison bed, and horror of horrors snogging her defence council..

She may or may not have bruises, depending on who you listen to, and members of her alleged assailants' families may have received threatening anonymous 'phone calls. She may or may not have had cat-fights with her cell mate, whose location is now unknown.

Will any of this nonsense make any difference? Will electors switch allegiance, or will floating voters be convinced one way or the other, probably not.

Nevertheless, Tymoshenko and her advisers still seem to be making the running...dictating events, her's is the name running prominently through the world's press. She has nothing to lose, and all Yanukovych and his 'banda' can do is respond, always from a weaker position.

Even smarty-pants first vice premier Valeriy Khoroshkovsky has had to explain he was misunderstood/mistranslated when he allegedly suggested to Europeans: 'sign the Association Agreements and we'll let her go'...

Once credibility has been undermined, it is most difficult to rebuild; blunders by the authorities will continue.

What will the next episode bring? Tymoshenko in a wheelchair in the court dock, or will the trial be postponed? Midnight flight to Berlin? Or more grainy videos? One thing is for sure...she will not go quietly and there is much more to come in this grotesquely fascinating soap opera..

p.s. All rather quiet now on the Scherban murder accusations...

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ukrainians want European status symbols, not European values..

First vice prime minister Valeriy 'Mentadent'  Khoroshkovsky met foreign journalists in Brussels over breakfast on Wednesday. The main topic of conversation was, yet again, 'that woman'.

Unless political prisoners are released and allowed to participate in parliamentary elections this autumn, relations with the EU will remain frozen..The bizarre recent shenanigans in Kharkiv and upcoming rulings from the European Court of Human Rights will merely push EU-Ukraine relations deeper to the back of the freezer.

Maybe this is no big deal. Big-selling 'Segodnya' claim two thirds of its readers consider Ukraine would do better to enter into a Customs Union with Russia and Belarus because it would, allegedly improve economic growth and provide more jobs, rather that forge closer ties with the EU..European values are not that important to these guys.

The German president today cancelled his May visit to Ukraine, after a stream of critical articles in the German media, but will this make any difference to the sales of Mercedes, Gucci, Longines, Nokia, Siemens, Nestle, Nivea, Adidas etc. etc... products in Ukraine? Probably are the Europeans really bothered? They know they alone cannot halt the Yanukovych steamroller..

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Spoof videos - watch the master's work

Has Alison Jackson, producer queen of celebrity spoof videos been in Kyiv lately?

Also here and  here

Bizarre soap opera

Yulia Tymoshenko's political enemies have frequently quoted the case of Iceland's former PM Geir Haarde, who was being tried in connection with his country's major banking crisis and economic collapse, as a precedent to justify trying her for abuse of power when she was prime minister. Unlike her, he received a scrupilously fair trial, has not been held in custody, has not been physically abused, and will not serve any time in prison.

The latest twists and turns - claims and counter-claims surrounding Tymoshenko's imprisonment and her medical treatment are becoming ever-more bizarre...

Grainy indistinct videos, stiletto heel shoes under the bed, visits from Berlin doctors, patient being manhandled by burly male nurses into ambulance...pseudo-concern expressed even by Russian Foreign ministry...Like something out of a John Le Carre novel..

The entire soap-opera seems to be being stage-managed by crackpot political consultants. Quite what Ukrainian floating voters make of it all is not clear, but European and North American politicians must be completely disgusted and nonplussed..As the excellent James Sherr says,"..after the enormous efforts that have been put into finding and establishing the common ground and common language with the current authorities in Ukraine, we are now at the point when nobody in Europe will believe anything said by the structures of power here."

Obviously Yanukovych and his 'banda' do not care a toss about this.

Whatever next? Will Tymoshenko be strapped into a wheelchair in the Kharkiv courtroom? Straitjacket and a bag with two holes over her head? Deary me...

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tymoshenko's UESU trial politically motivated..again

Oleh Medvedyev recently posted a blog on the'Ukrainska Pravda' site entitled: Tymoshenko's "UESU" - a boring female romance compared with the bloody gangster novel whose heroes now lead PoR.

Here's a summary of his thoughts:

In the early 90's Ukraine's business elite was formed primarily from two social groups - gangsters, and former Komsomol activists under whose feet were trampled representatives of the communist state nomenklatura.

The period of primitive accumulation of capital in the history of any nation is not the most romantic or attractive - Ukraine is no exception. But even within the global laws of initial accumulation of wealth two styles were prominent in Ukraine: the hard gangster style of Donetsk, and the softer style of the Dnipropetrovsk Komsomol.

The first, were brutal and feral street children from mining town suburbs who rose to the top without any regard for rules or the remnants of Soviet morality under the sound of the crossfire of Kalashnikovs. The second, came from intelligent families that became cultured working inside the Party. Their origin and education meant they did not dispose of their competitors by blowing them up inside soccer stadiums. It is no surprise which of these two subcultures won out in Ukraine.

Now they are not only successfully dividing up amongst themselves the remains of state-owned property in the style of the 90s, but are also dealing with former business rivals and current political rivals in the same manner.

The UESU criminal case is needed by them not only to deepen reprisals against Tymoshenko, but also to divert people's attention from those heroes who embody the Donetsk mafia.

The UESU case was fabricated more than 10 years ago on the orders of Kuchma, as revealed on the already transcribed Melnychenko tapes. But even under Kuchma a criminal case could not be made to stick.

On November 11, 2005, The Supreme Court of Ukraine, at a joint meeting of two chambers attended by 46 judges, unanimously determined the UESU case to be closed in compliance with applicable criminal procedural law. There decision was binding on all authorities and officials. At the time the decision of the Supreme Court was unprecedented in the history of Ukrainian justice. Never had so many judges gathered to make a ruling - the objectivity and impartiality of their decision should be unquestionable. Vasyl Onopenko, a BYuT candidate, has not yet been appointed head of the Supreme Court,  Tymoshenko had been out of the PM's chair for two months, and Yushchenko has signed a memorandum of cooperation with Yanukovych.

The highest judicial body in the land had put an end to the ten-year legal battle, declaring absurd the accusations made by the Kuchma regime against Tymoshenko - recognizing them as being politically motivated.

Yanukovych's decision to yet again revive a case that has already been chewed over 100 times before and closed by judicial authorities lacks any common sense and has no legal logic. It has nothing to do with law and justice. The authorities just want to add another 12 years to the seven already meted out to Tymoshenko.

Apart from the Supreme Court decision, which in itself makes any criminal proceedings illegitimate, it is appropriate to mention the following:

First, Yulia Tymoshenko is being accused of crimes which allegedly took place at a period when she did not work in for UESU. All the materials mentioned by the Security Service of Ukraine and prosecutors relate to the period 1997-98, when Yulia Tymoshenko was already a deputy in Parliament.

Secondly, the 10-year statute of limitations applicable to the charges levelled at Tymoshenko have expired. 1997-1998 plus 10 is - 2007-2008, but not 2011 or 2012.

Thirdly, the new-old case against Tymoshenko is based solely on the assertion that "she could have given some verbal instructions" to a company for whom she had stopped working for over two years previously. In particular, the charges are based on the contention that Yulia Tymoshenko, as a parliamentary deputy, allegedly verbally indicated former subordinates how to make tax statements in order to obtain allegedly illegal tax refunds. However, there is no documented evidence of "verbal instructions". Moreover, those individuals who seem to be complicit in this "crime" were not even questioned - not questioned, because investigators know in advance the answer they would receive: no instructions were given by Tymoshenko.

UESU received tax refunds at that time from the State Tax Adminstration. At that time the STA were headed by the iron fisted current prime minister Mykola Azarov; under his leadership the STA would only approve such refunds after the most lengthy and detailed investigations..

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Lack of money will prevent Ukraine's drift to authoritarianism

Several days ago well-known Ukrainian journalist Vitaliy Portnikov addressed the eleventh meeting of the Polit Club discussion group. [Video here ]

He made the following points:

Ukraine is lagging 10 years behind Russia in its development. "In August 1991, Russia already had a real civil society. In Ukraine, in that year the local Communist Party declared independence - not out of patriotic motives but rather because they had no other choice".

Sadly, Russia was not able to endure the test of democracy, and latterly Ukraine is struggling too. If Yushchenko had found enough strength within himself, he would have usurped the power, just as Yeltsin had done. But his failure to do so gives Ukrainian society a chance to avoid the "Russian scenario."

According to Portnikov, in Ukraine, a process is taking place  similar to that which occurred in Russia when Yeltsin handed over power to Putin and after which the government ceased to pretend to be democratic. Ukraine is living through a period similar to the first years of Putin's Russia - there is not a big difference between the chekists and bandits.

Portnikov concludes: "The only thing that can save us - is our lack of money. The totalitarian government in our country cannot feed a population that would be prepared to accept this [authoritarian] option. In a situation where there is no money, we need to think what to do once the government lets go of the tiller, because this it will certainly [be forced] to do."


At a recent press conference, the head of Ukraine's State Property Fund. Oleksandr Ryabchenko, complained that despite the 'openness and transparency of privatization tender schemes', foreign investors have all but ignored them. The utility companies and public enterprises sold recently were all purchased by domestic businesses.

Volodymyr Lartsev at 'Radio Svoboda' explains the cynicism behind these statements.

During the two years of the current government, the investment climate in Ukraine has declined to almost zero if you ignore the few billion dollars Ukrainian oligarchs have redirected from their offshore Cyprus bank accounts into their business projects.

The bidding conditions for the sale of the state's stakes in Ukraine's energy sector have been specially formulated in order to suit specific national customers. The primary requirement is that potential participants use at least 70% Ukrainian coal in the enterprises being privatized.

However, the domestic coal market is dominated by Rinat Akhmetov whose businesses account for more than 60% of its production, so in terms of winning the privatization tenders for purchase of shares in the state-owned "Kyivenergo", "Zakhidenergo", "Donetskoblenergo", "Dneprenerho", "Dneproblenerho", "Krymenergo", "Tsentrenergo" and "Donbassenergo", it is very clear who will emerge victorious.

Akhmetov has used his close ties to Ukraine's ruling politicians to his advantage many times. In April 2011, parliament canceled all debts in the energy sector, in total $ 24 billion, thus significantly lowered their capitalization value before exposure to privatization.

The value of these assets were artificially depressed by 2-2.5 times their market value by assessors. Akhmetov has been provided a guaranteed market for the production of his coal mines, and, by buying coal from his own mines to supply his own power stations he can minimise payement of taxes by inflating its price. Ultimately it will be the ordinary citizen who has to pay for all of this.

Volodymyr Lartsev also describes the corrupt shennanigans that went on during the sale of the state's 50% stake in "Zakarpateoblenergo" and "Vinnitsaoblenergo"

The State Property Fund allowed three contenders to bid: "Lugansk Energy Union", controlled by the Ukrainian-Russian oligarch Konstantin Grigorishin, "VS Energy" owned by Russian politician and businessman Aleksander Babakov, and "Lvivoblenergo" belonging to the Surkis brothers.

According to representatives of the last of these, on February 3 when the contest took place, members of the tender committee all received calls on their mobiles and suddenly left the room thus breaking the required quorum; doors were locked and bidding had to be postponed.

By the time a postponement announcement was made, several members had in fact returned and a quorum reformed - but too late.

Several days later "Lvivoblenergo" were allowed to take part again, but on Feb. 10 it was announced they could not participate in the contest as the result of a challenge by the Prosecutor General who was conducting an additional inspection of supporting documentation of companies that had applied for the competition.

The eventual winner of the auction to purchase 50% shares of "Vinnitsaoblenergo" was "Lugansk Energy Union".

Lartsev provides another example of a recent opaque sell off by Ukraine's State Property Fund which ran a privatization tender to sell the hotel "Sport" complex in Kiev. The prospective purchaser was obliged to upgrade the complex as part of any deal.

On October 19 last year, the tender committee of the National Agency for Euro 2012 announced the results of the competition. It had been won by Vadym Novinsky's "Euzhyn" plc. Numerous attempts by journalists to find the identity of the other bidders using access to public informaiton laws were unsucessful. For any privatization to be declared lawful, there has to be at least two participants, but it seems that a 'dummy bid' by the co-owner of the Kyiv Hilton, Boris Fuksman, had been 'pulled'. The Fund will not now admit any problem with the legality of the competition starting price.

On April 2, the press service of the State Property Fund announced that the winner was "Euzhyn", part of the "Smart Holding" group owned by Vadym Novynsky. He had offered 67 million hryvnya, just a little more than the starting price - 66.324 million. Some experts valued the company at about double this figure. No other bidders have been named.

The secret contest was unprecedented, even by the standards of the shady 20-year history of privatizations in Ukraine.

p.s. Influential German media are linking Tymoshenko's imprisonment to EURO 2012...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Ukrainian company denies link to alleged arms smuggling to Syria

Ukrainian company denies link to alleged arms smuggling to Syria:

Will this story have legs?

p.s. Ukraine is currently having a torrid time, e.g. here, in the German media...

p.p.s. I have suggested in previous blogs that the prosecutor-general's office's attempt to stick the murder of Yevhen Shcherban onto Yulia Tymoshenko could reopen a Pandora's box.

Brave investigative journalist Tetyana Chornovil today posted the first part of her investigation "Vendetta: who killed Shcherban?" on the site.

Rinat Akhmetov has tried in the past to shut her up in the English courts.

As I have written previously: "in the murky mid nineteen nineties, after the fall of the Soviet Union, many dozens of prominent businessmen were murdered in the Donetsk oblast in a bloody carve up of local assets and property. Those who emerged triumphant dominate business and politics in Ukraine to this day." Chornovil's article provides details.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Gangland capos now control many Ukrainian oblasts

Independent observers consider Ukraine to be most corrupt country in Europe.

All over Europe, weeks before the EURO 2012 soccer tournament, big-selling media are complaining ever-more loudly about the country's 'bandits and swindlers' .

In a recent 'RadioSvoboda' interview the seasoned and colourful First Deputy of the Parliamentary Committee on Fighting Organized Crime and Corruption, Hennadiy Moskal, claims organized crime gangs currently operate much more freely than at the time of Leonid Kuchma's or Viktor Yushchenko's presidency.

"Some oblasts are fully controlled by crime bosses, criminal, it's a complete paradise for them and [they have] complete freedom.

[E.g.] in Sumy, 'zlodiy u zakoni' [crime boss] Lyera, actually controls, via his subordinates, the whole oblast - governors, mayors, heads of district administrations...Criminal authorities coordinate, manage, and guide their destinies. The President himself admitted this when after a trip to Zaporizhzhya, he ordered, the criminal situation to be dealt with, because a group of criminal authorities have seized power there. It's the same in Mykolayiv, in many other areas...this has never happened before in the 20 years of independence of Ukraine....

No other country has tackled corruption in the manner that Ukraine is fighting it today. First, they adopt laws, then the Constitutional Court soften them. Clearly the government has no wish to fight corruption. There is no political will amongst the higher leadership of the government."

On Saturday, a prominent local businessman, Hennadiy Akselrod was shot dead in Dnipropetrovsk. He had survived a previous assassination attempt two years earlier. Akselrod was a close business associate of two of Ukraine's wealthiest oligarchs.

Just a couple of weeks ago a top Ukraininan banker survived an assassination attempt in Kyiv.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Court cases will not alter political perceptions in Ukraine or abroad

Court hearings on the second case against former PM Yulia Tymoshenko are to commence on the 19th of this month in Kharkiv. She is to be charged with alleged tax avoidance, and other serious offences during the time she headed United Energy Systems of Ukraine [UESU]. She could also be charged with homicide offences, about which I have posted earlier.

It is almost certain these cases will proceed - Yanukovych intends to demonstrate that she has committed not only politically motivated offences, but also criminal offences. There will be no pulling of punches - she may eventually even receive a life sentence. The politically motivated offences for which she is now serving a seven-year term in prison could be successfully challenged in the European Court of Human Rights, so the latest charges are intended to make ensure she remains 'nailed' for good, whatever the ECHR decides.

Lessons will have been learned from last summer's shambolic trial in the Kyiv Pechersk courthouse. Next month's show-case proceedings will take place in the Kharkiv administrative court - a roomy, imposing historic building with long corridors and high ceilings - lots of room for everyone.

After stalling for many months, all of a sudden, the Ukrainian authorities are most keen to make sure Tymoshenko is fit and well for the trial. She must be seen to be present during the trial at all times, which was not the case at her previous trial, but an accused in a wheelchair will look bad hence the current extreme measures to provide, and to been seen to provide optimum medical provision.

Alternatively, pressure on her might be so great that she may just agree to the proposed medical treatment in Germany, where she could seek, and could probably receive, political asylum. This would be an optimum resolution for Yanukovych and his crew - it would provide some progress in resolving other troubles, e.g. the signing of the stalled EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. Whether the German authorities would ever be parties to such a morally dubious charade is questionable.

The problem for the authorities is, having 'cocked up' so badly last summer, a lot of their credibility has been irretrievably lost. A ruling in favour of Tymoshenko by the ECHR will provide a confirmation of this. Because of the structural failings of Ukraine's legal system, these new trials will not probably not be deemed fair either. A trial for the murder of Shecherban could turn out to be a 'can of worms' - revelations and counter allegations will blacken the president, his associates and financial sponsors, and former president Kuchma..

Even when Tymoshenko had been previously held on remand in prison a decade ago, charges could not be made to stick. The case has been raked through by various proscutors, so many investigators on behalf of different political groups. Contradicting testimonies have been altered one way then another so many times, witnesses have disappeared or have been killed, so presentation of a case convincing enough to satisfy sceptical observers will be most difficult.

It is LEvko's belief that there is a zero sum political benefit for Yanukovych and Party of Regions in proceeding with these cases. European observers will not be convinced that their purpose is anything other that to exact revenge - their intention, to destroy Yanukovych's most dangerous rivals.

A further wave of charges against leading oppposition leaders is predicted but will not harm their ratings.

As for Tymoshenko, she will read the lessons of history..that of formerly imprisoned leaders; she knows: 'There is no such thing as bad publicity... except your own obituary'..

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Raking up of past crimes discredits current authorities too..

Ukrainian authorities are continuing their high-profile campaign directed against former PM Yulia Tymoshenko, linking her to contract-style killings of rival businessmen, in particular that of Yevhen Shcherban, in the mid-nineties.

Last night on national TV, deputy prosecutor-general Renat Kuzmin repeated the accusations in a series of prejucial and unsubstantiated comments.

I have previously mentioned that in the murky mid nineteen nineties after the fall of the Soviet Union, many dozens of prominent businessmen were murdered in the Donetsk oblast in a bloody carve up of local assets and property. Those who emerged triumphant dominate business and politics in Ukraine to this day.

Both the current prosecutor-general Viktor Pshonka, and his deputy, Renat Kuzmin, were highly placed in the Donetsk prosecutor's office at that time. From 1986 Pshonka was chief prosecutor in Kramatorsk, then deputy prosecutor in the Donetsk oblast, and chief prosecutor there from 1998 until 2003. Kuzmin held high office in the regional prosecutors' offices both in Donetsk and other nearby regions. Because so few of these violent crimes were ever solved, frequently suspects themselves were killed in mysterious circumstances whilst in custody, so collusion between mobsters and law enforcement agencies was highly probable.

I recently came across a good account, in English, of the bloody battles between the Donetsk and the Dnipropetrovsk clans, [in particular between the Industrial Union of Donbas [IUD] and United Energy Systems of Ukraine [UESU]], and the manner in which the Donetsk clan eventually came to wield such great power. [Source - particularly pages 379 - 383.]

Who was responsible for murdering who in these battles is not entirely clear though. In an article in the latest 'Dzerkalo Tyzhnya', Serhiy Kuzin writes:

Akhat' Bragin, Rinat Akhmetov, Yevhen Shcherban, Oleskandr Momot were the top men in IUD. At first it was just a 'two computer-three secretary' company which sent out faxes to directors of companies with 'recommendations' to buy gas from IUD.

Lazarenko at UESU was engaged in the same trade, but on a nationwide scale. The fight for the business of large industrial enterprises was written in a 'red thread' in clashes between the opposing Donetsk and Dnepropetrovsk groups. The price for gas proposed by IUD managers was not particularly attractive to Donbas businessmen - they could get a better deal with UESU. 'Disobedient' directors of factories and industrial plants, naturally were not keen to pay their exorbitant prices. The-then governor of the Donetsk region, Volodymyr Shcherban [not to be confused with Yevhen..LEvko], favoured IUD and sent letters to all factory bosses with a "recommendation" they buy gas from their own people.

As a result, these factories and plants were driven into the hands of IUD and evenually became their property. But by that time Bragin, Momot and Yevhen Scherban had been violently killed... they had previously been considered the most influential people in the region. After their deaths the war in the region ceased....

Rinat Akhmetov, [the sole survivor of the IUD quartet..F.N.] came away from IUD with the lion's share of its enterprises, having already created SCM. The remaining scraps were redeveloped by Haiduk, Taruta and Mkrtchyan into what became their own IUD ...

Raking up the past in order to destroy Tymoshenko as a political opponent exposes the bloody past of Ukraine's richest and most powerful men too...Comments on various blog postings are sometimes informative and constructive...E.g. there is good evidence that by late 1995 UESU and IUD were well on the way to resolving their differences, a year before Shcherban's death.

Fifty-year old Yevhen Shcherban was also a talented and influential Verkhovna Rada 'Liberal Party of Ukraine' deputy. He was a successful businessman in his own right and had excellent political perspectives - quite capable of leading the 'Donetski' to power in Kyiv. In the summer of 1996 the still relatively weak president Kuchma, sacks Volodymyr Shcherban as Donetsk governor. Yevhen Shcherban starts forming a major group in the VR together with other leading Ukrainian politicians...and becomes an advisor to Lazarenko, who was by then prime minister. The day before his murder, Y. Scherban was to meet Lazarenko to strengthen their ties....

Shcherban's death opened a path to Kyiv, under the patronage of Kuchma, to - an almost unknown, twice-convicted Donetsk motor pool manager...Yulia Tymoshenko's deadliest enemy, the current president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych.

Other notable political associates of Shcherban's say Tymoshenko was not at all influential at that time...she was still running around "with pig-tails and school socks"... They point the finger at Kuchma...

Friday, April 06, 2012

Working round the Tymoshenko problem? - no chance..[updated]

Newly appointed Minister of Economic Development and Trade of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, was interviewed Thursday on Mykola Knyazytsky's TV show. He freely admitted that in recent meetings with European foreign ministers and other officials, topic number 1 was the imprisonment of Yulia Tymoshenko and Yuriy Lutsenko - the biggest obstacles to closer integration with the EU. He repeated his frequently declared previous opinion that the two imprisoned former ministers were denied fair trials and did not have a chance to defend themselves properly in court. He claimed both Kyiv and Brussels were hostages to the situation and both were working to find a mutually acceptable solution.

The previous day, first vice prime minister Valeriy Khoroshkovsky, in an interview with the BBC in London said that in the matter of Yulia Tymoshenko the EU and Ukraine should strive to find a compromise otherwise neither side will ever hear one another.

Both Poroshenko and Khoroshkovsky seem to imagine that the EU and Ukraine can somehow 'work around this problem.'

In recent days the imprisoned leaders of the opposition have been visited by Freedom House delegates and, at long last, by EU representatives. A fancy suite of rooms in a Kharkiv clinic has been prepared in which Tymoshenko is to be treated for her herniated spinal disc - which was first diagnosed early November last year. It seems German doctors will have an input into her treatment.

At the same time, prosecutor-general Viktor Pshonka is daily finding new charges with which to attack Tymoshenko. She is being linked to the murder of a business rival in the mid-nineties, and today Pshonka claimed in 2005 then-prosecutor-general Sviatoslav Piskun closed the criminal cases against Tymoshenko's United Energy Systems of Ukraine corporation (UESU) on the orders of then-president Viktor Yushchenko. Despite the gravity of his allegation, you can be sure neither Piskun or Yushchenko will ever be charged with any wrongdoing.

Yanukovych's tactic seems then to be: the P-G will continue a flat-out campaign to further discredit YuT, primarily intended for domestic consumption, whilst at the same time she will remain, [IMHO for quite a while] in pleasant surroundings for 5* medical treatment, as a palliative to lessen criticism from abroad.

This will not succeed.

This unequivocal message from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, just a couple of days after the recent visit of Ukraine's foreign minister to that country, is the same as that emanating from other European capitals:

"Association Agreement is a win-win solution for both Ukraine and Europe. This all sounds very positive. And it is. But there is a snag; the Association Agreement is unlikely to be signed and ratified unless opposition leaders jailed as a result of flawed trials are freed and permitted to participate in politics..."

The presentation of Tymoshenko and Lutsenko's cases before the European Court of Human Rights in the near future, and the global media spotlight on Ukraine during the Euro 2102 soccer tournament in two month's time means the entire issue of repression of political opponents will not abate. Yanukovych will most likely receive a hostile reception from local fans if he attends any soccer matches, and the opposition will make the most of such a situation to hype their message.

The ever-increasing number criminal charges being placed at Tymoshenko's door, do not seem to be harming her OP ratings, which remain on a par with Yanukovych's.

President Yanukovych's manipulation of the Constitution on coming into office has given him great powers...which will be inherited by any successor, whoever that may be. If he loses the next presidential elections in 2015, which is quite possible, even probable, he could be in deep doodoo - he has set a precedent by persecuting his own predecessors.

Update: Poroshenko's most interesting TVi interview [excerpts] here .

Also lots of speculation that Tymoshenko may be sent for medical treatment in Germany...

LEvko asks, 'If she responds to treatment in the freshly appointed treatment rooms in Kharkiv, why should she need go to Germany?' Also would German authorities co-operate with what would be banishment from her own country, particularly as she is facing other major criminal charges? Hmmm...

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Yanukovych's first two years

I can heartily recommend this Carnegie Endowment report:

"Reforming the Ukrainian Economy under Yanukovych: The First Two Years"

by the excellent Nazar Kholod. It is the best I have seen on the topic.

The hell-hole that is Lukyaniv prison

The brave investigative journalist Konstyantyn Usov, from TVi, recently managed to smuggle several mobile phones into the notorious Lukyaniv investigative isolation unit where former PM Yulia Tymoshenko was detained, and where former Minister of Internal Affairs, Yuriy Lutsenko, is still being held. His nightmarish television documentary can be seen here....

The conditions in some of the cells, filmed by inmates, are unimaginably bad...diabolical...don't watch it before going to bed...

Remember, most of these inmates have not been tried or sentenced - many may be innocent but may, nevertheless, be detained there for years....

It is difficult to accept that human beings can be so maltreated in a state institution in the capital city of a European democracy in the 21st century.. utterly and absolutely shameful.

The Freedom House guys who visited Yuriy Lutsenko at the prison on Tuesday should check out the video....After their visit: "The [Ukrainian] State Penitentiary Service stressed that the visitors noted that Ukraine took measures to bring conditions for detention and medical treatment for detainees in line with international standards."

You f***ing liars...

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Thieves and gangsters from the early nineties still dominate in Russia and Ukraine

Today, in the British 'Guardian', I read an obituary of Marina Salye - a Russian democrat and implacable opponent of Putin. It is well worth reading in full here

Below is just a portion:

"In 1990 she was elected to the Congress of People's Deputies and to the Leningrad City Soviet, as the Communist party lost its monopoly on power. Salye was given the thankless job of organising food supplies at a time when the Leningrad shops were bereft of goods. It was as the elected chair of the city's food commission that she first came across Putin. He had returned from his undercover KGB mission in East Germany and was working for Leningrad's new mayor, Anatoly Sobchak, as deputy for international relations.

Salye managed to stabilise the food situation. She introduced rationing and food coupons – a fraught step in a city with raw memories of starvation and the Nazis' wartime blockade. At the same time she travelled to Germany to secure badly needed imports of food. Once in Berlin, however, she was told that someone had beaten her to it: a mysterious order had come from St Petersburg city hall for 60 tonnes of meat....She found that Putin had entered into legally dubious contracts with obscure firms to export raw materials abroad in return for food. The contracts were awarded without tender. These raw materials – oil, timber, rare metals – were duly exported. But the food never turned up. Salye and another city councillor, Yuri Gladkov, discovered conclusive proof that $92m handled by Putin's department had vanished....Gladkov, her co-investigator...died after apparently being poisoned."

This decent and brave woman spoke the truth about the murky past of Russia's current leaders. May she rest in peace.

Both Putin and his coterie in Russia, and Yanukovych and his 'banda' in Ukraine came to the fore in the murky early nineteen nineties after the fall of the Soviet Union, the latter in the Donetsk oblast where, at that time, many dozens of prominent businessmen were murdered in a bloody carve up of local assets and property. Those who survived dominate business and politics in Ukraine to this day.

Both the current prosececutor general Viktor Pshonka, and his deputy, Renat Kuzmin, were highly placed in the Donetsk prosecutor's office, at that time. From 1986 Pshonka was chief prosecutor in Kramatorsk, then deputy prosecutor in the Donetsk oblast, and chief prosecutor there from 1998 until 2003. Kuzmin held high office in the regional prosecutors' offices both in Donetsk and other nearby regions.

Almost none of the high-profile killings were ever solved or their perpetrators brought to justice, and yet those who emerged victorious during this bloody period, and those in the law enforcement agencies failed so miserably to deal with the lawlessness or even, dare I say, colluded in it, currently hold power in Ukraine.

When the western media speak to Rinat Kuzmin, e.g. as in the 'F.T.' and he links Yulia Tymoshenko to murders and other major crimes, they should be aware of the man's background. They could start by typing in Kuzmin [and Pshonka] into the 'F.N.' search engine box. Both of these highly disreputable characters have 'too many skeletons in their cupboard' to be taken seriously.

There is strong evidence to suggest that a British PR company has been 'helping' Kuzmin to 'set the record straight' on the Tymoshenko and Lutsenko cases in the western media.. The British PR company have admitted they are working on behalf of Party of Regions in media relations...

Monday, April 02, 2012

Hryshchenko's complaint unjustified

Ukraine's foreign minister, Konstantyn Hrshchenko, complains that his country faces double standards in Europe on the question of recent trials of highly placed opposition politicans : "The former Prime Minister of Iceland [Geir Haarde] is now on trial for charges of inefficient management of the country during the financial crisis, and nobody in the EU complains about this. Yulia Tymoshenko is convicted of abuse of authority by signing gas contracts with Russia which caused unnecessary losses of billions for Ukraine, and European politicians are outraged".
But then he admits Ukraine's judicial and criminal-procedural system, in large measure, does not meet European standards and is now undergoing a reform process. [He does add that existing laws and court decisions should be respect and fulfiled.]

Here lies the dilemma.
Geir Haarde is being tried by a special court consisting of 15 members – five supreme court justices, a district court president, a constitutional law professor and eight people chosen by parliament. He will have every opportunity to defend himself and there is a strong possibility he will be found innocent of the charges he is facing. For these reasons, whatever the verdict, it is most unlikely other countries will question the fairness and validity of the trial.

The trials of Ukrainian opposition members are considered flawed by almost all western observers. E.g. Tymoshenko was tried before a lone rookie judge with only 2 years experience in a shoe-box of a courtroom in conditions described as 'inhuman' by an EU observer. The many other shortcomings in the trials of the former Ukrainian PM and others have been well documented. In Ukraine the accused has little opportunity to present a defence, e.g. by calling expert witnesses. 'Not guilty' verdicts are almost unheard of - once trials get under way the end result is seldom in doubt.

If Hryshchenko wants the verdicts handed down to Tymoshenko, former interior minister Lutsenko and others to be accepted by the EU, their trials should have satisfied European standards. He himself accepts Ukraine's legal system does not meet European standards so why should the EU accept these verdicts? They can only conclude the trials are politically motivated..