Tuesday, February 28, 2006

BYuT 'on a roll'?

Today [Monday] Yulia Tymoshenko was campaigning in Yanukovych's heartland - in Donetsk. She attended a press conference followed by a live TV appearance on a local station, and then held a rally attended, according to her own website by up to 10,000 people. The visit seems to have been a success in what was, until recently been very hostile territory for any member of the Orange camp. As she criss-crosses the country there is no doubt that her rallies and public meetings are well attended - photographs on the 'Batkivschyna' website attest to this.

So far, the NSNU campaign strikes me as being half-hearted and inept. Their problem is that unlike BYuT, they don't have a prominent leader now that Yuschenko, probably wisely, has distanced himself from the VR elections. Yekhanurov is not particularly popular and gives the impression that despite being a competent TV performer, he prefers to remain a 'behind the scenes' operator.

Yanukovych, by repeating memorized platitudes at a few safe venues, has not made any serious blunders in his campaign, apart from mixing up names of the odd candidate. Even some of his own supporters see him as rather a buffoon, and know in their hearts that the real power in PR lies elsewhere, although, like Tymoshenko, he enjoys campaigning and 'pressing the flesh'.

One OP indicates that 33% of the electorate want to see Yanukovych as PM, 29% support Tymoshenko, with Yekhanurov is at just 6%. This surely is bad news for NSNU.

Interfax reports: Kyiv, February 27 (Interfax-Ukraine) - Ukrainian President Viktor Yuschenko said that on March 26, voters will elect a new parliamentary majority, rather than a premier. "On March 26, Ukrainians will not elect a premier or a chancellor, but a new parliamentary majority," the president said in his weekly radio address on Saturday. "I believe this will be a democratic majority which will honestly represent millions of people, and which will defend the interests of Ukrainians and Ukraine, but not those of other countries," he said.

How little Yushchenko knows about politics..People need to know who the leader is to be, the person they entrust to lead the team who run the government on their behalf.

The electorate then, have a choice between the two most prominent leaders - Tymoshenko or Yanukovych.

Yanukovych himself confirms this, constantly directing fire at the Orange forces but rarely mentioning Yekhanurov, maybe because he is a stop-gap PM only. I doubt whether Yanukovych's minders would risk putting him 'head to head' against the quick-witted Tymoshenko on any live TV debate.

Tymoshenko is by far the most popular political figure amongst the Kyiv region electorate, which has often been the trendsetter in Ukrainian national politics. NSNU's most prominent members spend too much time and effort talking of coalitions, and Yekhanurov does not seen to have any stomach for political campaigning. All this adds to speculation that PR and NSNU have already cooked up a coalition deal that will be activated after the election.

So my hunch is that as the elections draw nearer, only 27 days to go now, there will be some drift back to BYuT by NSNU supporters, and maybe even an increase in support for BYuT in eastern, mainly pro-PR regions.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Questions and comments

I read all the comments and I know that some of them ask questions. We do though tend to be busy, busy, busy so we may not answer them in a timely manner. But maybe I can take care of some that I haven't had a chance to respond to:

1. Would it be helpful if Europe got involved in formulating an energy policy? It would because it it would help cement the tie to Europe. The problem though is that the policy would need to involve some changes in how the government does business. (There are lots of barriers to entry, for one thing.) Europe can help with this and so can the US but it will take Ukraine to get serious about it. I am always amused by Western experts who come in, help governments pass laws, and then leave with a hefty paycheck paid out of NGO funds. Problem is that it isn't so much the lack of law that is the issue as it is the fact that the law is what the one in power says it is. It has been said that there is no rule of law here. It would be more accurate though a bit toungue and cheek to say that there is rule of law except when it makes a difference. Europe and the US can have a say but it will take Ukrainians to make the changes needed.

2. There has also been some mention of the need for more of a civic society. This is true. There is a real need for a stronger civil society here and in Russia though Ukraine is much better off than Russia is on this. The problem though is again cultural. It is tough when most people here believe that the government is there to right all wrongs. The point is that people will petition the government for any problem that affects them from the large to the not so large. That this can be effective is one of the problems. To have a robust civil society there needs to be a sense that people themselves can make a difference. That is the spirit which dominated the OR on Maidan and a reason for being optimistic in the long run. But nothing is assured in the end and that cultural tendency tends to just get in the way.

Anyway, keep asking and we'll keep answering-- though it may take awhile.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Discredited Verkhovna Rada

On Friday a proposal by BYuT in the VR to strip criminal immunity from Ukrainian city hall council deputies failed to gain enough support and garner sufficient votes for further progress be made in this matter.

Former secretary of the of National Security and Defence Council, Petro Poroshenko highlighted the scale of the problem claiming, that because of current decrees, prosecutors are unable to bring to court 780 criminal cases involving such deputies.

BYuT complain their proposal in the VR was torpedoed by the combined efforts of NSNU, PR, and Communist deputies, and called their actions irresponsible. "Liquidation of automatic criminal immunity for deputies would have enabled cleaning out of bandits and villains from representative organs."

Immunity was assured for these guys when a memorandum of understanding was signed last fall by Yushchenko and Yanukovych. Revocation of such immunity for VR and City hall council deputies is one of BYuT's conditions for creation of a grand Orange coalition before the March 26th VR elections.

Thoughtful analysis "whether the Verkhovna Rada as an institution can be trusted with - or, more bluntly, is fit - to exercise its new, enhanced role [after the March 26th elections]" is provided in a recently published important article by Markian Bilynskyj, U.S.-Ukraine Foundation's Vice President and Director of Field Operations.

I have blogged previously about the type of individuals who may be elected to the VR in a few weeks time, and of possible instability of any likely coalitions.

"Accumulated arbitrary abuses and a perceived disdain for popular will by the presidency were the proximate causes of the Orange Revolution....Given the powerful dynamics working against the Rada reforming itself it might take a similar - although highly unlikely - popular expression of no-confidence to make the Rada finally take seriously its role as the principal Ukrainian representative and legislative body," concludes Bilynskyj.

Crime and politics [2]

"The Donetsk clan began its formation in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The first step took place in the settlement of Oktiabrsk in 1988. A local resident, Akhat Bragin, a man of "great authority" in both local official and underworld circles, took control of the local market. At that time, 22-year-old Rynat Akhmetov, a young man of Tatar nationality, was close to Mr. Bragin. Mr. Akhmetov, born in Donetsk in 1966, was noticed by many local men of authority for his quick mind and ability to get things done. Mr. Bragin kept him close and taught him the business of doing business Donetsk-style." 'The clan from Donetsk' - by Roman Kupchinsky

On 15th October 1995 Akhat Bragin, was spectacularly killed in an bomb explosion in the Shakhtar Donetsk football club stadium. Akhmetov, now the richest man in Ukraine, and according to observers, the Partiya Regioniv sponsor and #7 on their VR election list, is the current owner of the now greatly-expanded club.

According to an article on the Ostrov website, and elsewhere, on 22nd February 2006 an appeal court in Donetsk heard the preliminary statement of Vyacheslav Sinenko, a former police major, who is accused of the attempted killing of Akhat Bragin and others by means of an explosive device.

Sinenko [who himself survived and assassination attempt when he was shot in the hip on 5th May 1998] claimed:

  • that he was framed for this crime by the former Donetsk Chief Prosecutor and former Prosecutor-General of Ukraine Gennadiy Vasilyev,
  • that the true organizers of Bragin's killing were associates of Akhmetov,
  • that he was persecuted after collecting and presenting evidence to Vasiliev,
  • that the crime's prime suspect was a man called Rukhmanov, who he had apprehended but who was then released on the orders of Vasiliev,
  • that his own death was "needed by Akhmetov because I held in my possession evidence against one of his 'warriors' Rukhmanov",
  • that when he was in hospital recovering from his assassination attempt he 'spilled the beans' to an investigative TV journalist Igor Aleksandrov, who was murdered in July 2001. [A homeless man accused of killing Aleksandrov himself died in suspicious circumstances.]

Sinenko escaped to Greece, but on 30th March 2004 was detained in Athens and extradited to Ukraine a year later.

At a further court hearing on 23rd February Sinenko gave more details of his defence. He says that at the time of his investigation into the Bragin killing he met V.S Malyshev, the former head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Donetsk.

Malyshev told him: "Where the hell are you going with this, you idiot..?" Malyshev is now chief of security at Akmetov's SystemCapitalManagement, and well-placed on the PR parliamentary election list for the March 26th VR elections. Akhmetov is named on a list of witnesses in the trial.

Today Akhmetov's lawyers issued a statement: "The accusations directed at Mr Akmetov that appeared on 22nd February in several internet publications are nothing more than an attempt to accuse him of tragic events that were declared groundless by a court of law a long time ago. The authors of these slanderous and false statements will be held to account."

Update: The Ostrov article quoted above has now been translated into English here.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Some parties

There are a lot of parties here vying for seats in the Ukrainian Parliament, the Verkhovna Rada. They have to cross the 3% threshold to be able to have any seats at all. This means they will get 15 seats or they will get nothing. A lot of them will get nothing.

The Green Party is here something I didn't know. They threw green colored eggs in the VR the other day protesting something or other.

There's also a party of Putin here. Could it happen anywhere else?

The pensioners, the retirees, also have their own party.

And there are a lot of others. I may post something on the more interesting ones later.

One thing that's done here that has been done in Russia is that parties often fund opposition parties, that is parties that promote policies that the party doing the funding might not agree with. They do this to bleed the larger opposition party of support and votes.

So if there is a nationalist contingent that has made its home in a larger more diverse party, the opposition might fund a nationalist party to drain that support away. This also serves teh purpose of creating very large straw men to take swings at. Set them up to knock them down. "We are the party to save you from the nationalists that are marching with their fists in the air even as we speak." And they might have been funded by the very people taking aim at them.

It's all political technology as they say here. Uber-spin it might be called.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Crime and politics

On 31st January 2006 the Russian Ministry of the Interior website ran a story including the following:

<<The bloodiest Ukrainian gang traced in Moscow

The [Russian] Ministry of the Interior announced yesterday that it had apprehended members of the bloodiest and the most powerful Ukrainian gang, called "Donetsk Brigade", in Moscow over the weekend. This sting operation came after a two-year Russian - Ukrainian investigation that tried to eradicate the gang led by Georgian mafia boss Givi Nemsadze, a.k.a. Papa (Dad) and Givchick. According to Ukrainian security services, members of the "brigade" are responsible for at least 50 [un]solved[?] contract murders. And its leaders controlled about 200 major businesses at a time.>>

Until now Ukrainian media have not really picked up this story, but today the weekly 'Bez Tsenzury' have a big front-page spread entitled 'Gangs of Dontesk' with lots more on 'Givchick' and his gang. They make Scorsese's 'Goodfellas' look like 'Wallace and Gromit'.

According to the Ministry of the Interior 'top banana' in the Donetsk oblast, the members of the gang are suspected of having close links with state officials "of the highest rank," with parliamentary deputies, with candidates up for election to the new parliament, and, in particular, according to unofficial sources, with Rinat Akmetov.

Last year RFE/RL ran this: "Special-task force Berkut and an armored personnel carrier were involved in a search of the Donetsk-based firm Lyuks belonging to Ukrainian oligarch Rynat Akhmetov on 16 August, Ukrainain media reported. In July, Akhmetov failed to appear for questioning as a witness in a case related to a shooting in Donetsk in 1988. Ukrainian Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko suggested that Akhmetov may be arrested if he continues to evade investigators. Akhmetov is reportedly vacationing abroad."

The 'Bez Tsenzury' piece suggests that the Russian authorities are in no hurry to agree to Ukraine's request for their extradition, because they have in their hands a wonderful source of 'kompromat' which could be used as leverage on Akmetov and Yanukovych when [if] they come to power after the March 26th elections. Ex-minister for emergency situations Davyd Zhvaniya had already announced that Akhmetov had sold off a portion of his business empire to Russians. This may have been precipitated by blackmail threats from the Kremlin.

Givi Nemsadze, it seems was associated in the early '90's with a notorious Donetsk gang - the "Lyuks" gang. Curiously, the Partiya Regioniv VR election list includes at #66, a driver for a Lyuks Ltd, and at #84 the Lyuks Ltd General Director.

Re: Corruption

LEvko has made a couple of posts about the goings on at the National Tax Academy. It's more of the usual. But it does raise a point that bears keeping in mind, something I have mentioned before. That point is that whoever controls the right buildings controls the government. It was true before the OR and it is still true now.

For a brief time there was the possibility that this could be changed with Yuschenko. He actually was the de facto government during the OR governing from the street, governing on the strength of principles and the will of the people. But that time has passed. We're back to cronyism and corruption to get things done and that requires control of government buildings.

Corruption, Ukrainian-style

"Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes..
Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied".....
Lyrics to "Everybody knows" ..Leonard Cohen

More information on the Irpin National State Tax Academy affair [on which I posted a couple of items previously] is provided on the Oligarch website, and reminded me of the Leonard Cohen song above. What a tangled web of corruption...

Petro Melnyk was sacked from his position of rector of the Ukrainian National State Tax Service Academy by its head Alexandr Kiryeev on 17th May 2005, for abusing his position and for financial irregularities. No criminal charges were made because the Prosecutor-General at the time was Sviatoslav Piskun - who also happened to be Melnyk's 'kum' [god-parent to his children, i.e. almost 'family']. Melnyk subsequently legally challenged the sacking, and was reinstated on the orders of a Kyiv court.

According to 'Oligarch' Melnyk had appropriated land formerly used as a Pioneer camp belonging to the academy, as well as a coffee shop that is now run by his sister. He had also provided himself with an Audi 8 company car from academy funds.

Piskun was fired from the position of P-G of Ukraine in October 2005 by Pres. Yushchenko, so Melnyk lost his 'krysha'. The head of the Academy Kiryeev appointed a new rector, Volodymyr Zahorskyi who - get this - is his 'kum!' The new management were seen later carrying out a safe and important documents from the academy.

Melnyk got a court to annul his sacking because he was signed off sick at the time, and according to Ukrainian law, could not be legally dismissed. [A commonly used loop-hole - reminds me of sick-notes at school]

He and his Partiya Regioniv pals then forced their way back into the academy last Monday. Now he claims that there was $250,000 in cash in the safe which has gone missing, the money apparently 'belonging to the 'Deka' marketing, research and consulting company, of which Melnyk was co-founder'.

Local police don't want to get involved because, 'After the 26th March, Melnyk will be elected deputy to the new Parliament', and will be 'fire-proof' - Parliamentary deputies being automatically provided with immunity from prosecution. Melnyk's 'kum' former P-G Piskun will probably be elected to the Ukrainian Parliament on the PR's list too, and no-one wants to 'fall out' with PR big shots right now because they may well be in power again after the elections.

As a post-script, here's something from the 'Maidan' website last October about the sacking by Piskun, of Oleh Levytskyy, Chief prosecutor of the Kirovohrad region, and others :

"Levytskyy is convinced that the main reason for the sackings is a criminal case opened recently which impinges on the business interests of senior state officials. He is quoted as saying: "The Kirovohrad Region prosecutor's office has encroached upon the business of the wife of Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Piskun, of the wife of the head of the Supreme Court of Ukraine, [Vasyl] Malyarenko, of the wife of the former minister and chief of the State Tax Administration, [Mykola] Azarov, as well of a relative of the prosecutor-general of Ukraine."

Update: The saga continues: In a piece on the 5-iy kanal website head of State Tax Administration Oleksandr Kiryeev told journalists that his children were not christened for a long while and he isn't anyone elses 'kum'. 50 private security men are protecting Melnyk, who has already fired ten or more lecturers and other staff at the academy. Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs have opened a case against Melnyk for hooliganism.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

An agreement near?

Is an agreement between Our Ukraine and Tymoshenko in the offing? This article from Interfax says there is:

The pro-presidential bloc of parties OurUkraine has accepted a Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc's version of an agreement meant to set up a so-called Orange Coalition to run in the parliamentary elections in March, said Our Ukraine deputy campaign staff chief Roman Zvarych.

"It was not difficult because there are virtually no fundamental differences between our two projects," Zvarych said.
We'll see if it happens.

Partiya Regioniv showing their true colors?

Yesterday I wrote about events at the National State Tax Service Academy in Irpin', near Kyiv. The rector, Petro Melnyk, whose sacking had been revoked by a local court last week, organized the smashing in of doors ans windows of the Academy buildings accompanied by several hundred Partiya Regioniv demonstrators in order to gain access. A video of events can be seen on 5-iy Kanal website - he's the guy carrying a bouquet of flowers while the glass doors are being smashed!

Some reports claim that many of the demonstrators [including some skin-heads and thugs] were bussed in from other areas.

Melnyk, a local PR big-shot who is #143 on their March 2006 Parliamentary election list had been sacked for numerous legal transgressions, financial irregularities, and illegally agitating for Yanukovych amongst his students in the 2004 Presidential elections. At that time students in many higher educational establishments complained about pressure being applied on them in order they vote for Yanukovych.

The Ukrainian State Tax Administration, who I imagine run the academy condemned the court ruling reinstating Melnyk to his position of rector of the Academy, and will appeal against the decision. Today other reports say that Melnyk stayed overnight the Academy, and is constantly escorted by bodyguards.

Whatever the legal rights and wrongs of this case are, it is Melnyk and the PR who turned what should have been dealt with exclusively by courts and the police, into a political demonstration and show of strength. If he had been denied access to the Academy, then it is they should have handled the matter. As it was, Melnyk and his PR supporters showed their true 'bully-boy' colors. And the police were nowhere to be seen.

This may have been an attempt by PR to test the resolve of the pathetic law enforcement agencies. I wonder what a non politically orientated student of the Academy attending a lecture made of all of these events. Maybe it will serve as a reminder of what to expect if PR become the dominant political power after the VR elections.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Salt shortages and related psychoses--Russia

There is now a shortage of salt on store shelves in Russia. We have been hearing about this in the Ukrainian media but I didn't know it was this bad.

But this, this is just too much:

The current situation reveals the technologies of psychogenic action used in the field of public awareness. A person suffering from psychosis is guided by emotions only whereas his or her critical thinking is pushed into the background. As a result, a human being starts taking illusions for reality. That is why people do not believe state officials when they appear on TV screens or radio channels and say that the situation will soon be normalized. (Emphasis mine.)

Doesn't this sound like the good old days when a person took a position, let's say, contrary to the state's position, that person was considered to have a mental illness? Off to the ward with you. If you think that there might be some shortages from a potential Ukrainian retaliation for the gas problem and/or the dairy ban and the government says differently, well, that, of course, is the result of a psychosis.

Sounds like Pravda is back once again to the position that the truth is what the government says it is. It does have a kind of post modern ring to it in keeping with the age though. But is this not depressing?

Technorati tags:

Some worrying violent incidents

The current Parliamentary election campaign, in contrast to the 2004 Presidential campaign, has so far produced few violent incidents. But there have been one or two straws in the wind..

According to unian, today in Irpin' near Kyiv, several hundred Partiya Regioniv activists stormed the National State Tax Service Academy, smashing doors and windows. Injuries were reported and some members of the accademy security team have been hospitalized.

The PR activists were escorting a previously dismissed rector, Petro Melnyk, even though his replacement had been legitimately elected. Melnyk who is also head of PR in the Kyiv region, was recently reappointed to his position by a court order, and is a 'kum' of the highly dubious ex-Procurator General Svyatoslav Piskun, now on the 'rogues gallery' PR electoral list.

Orange activists arrived to help protect the Academy. Though police had been warned of impending trouble, only 4 law-enforcement officers were present. Melnyk himself organized the storming of the building with some private security guys. He was last seen in the rectors office 'writing ukases' of dismissal.

A much more sinister event took place on February 11th when a freelance journalist was seriously assaulted near Donetsk. His condition is reported as being critical. An article written in English in IMI suggests that the attack could be connected to the murder of TV journalist Igor Aleksandrov in July 2001.

Also on 18th February a news agency office in Lviv was gutted. Arson is suspected. A similar, more serious incident occurred in 2004.

Hopefully these events are unrelated and not precursors of worse to come.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Gas problem not settled--more evidence

This is some evidence that the gas crisis in Ukraine if far from being settled.

The head of gas monopoly Gazprom on Friday denied any disagreements with the Turkmen government over the price of natural gas it buys from the Central Asian nation.

Gazprom chief Alexei Miller met with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov in the capital, Ashgabat, following the Turkmen leader's announcement last week of a 65 percent hike in gas export prices later this year. "There are no disputes between Russia and Turkmenistan concerning the price or volumes of the Turkmen gas that we import," Miller said after the

I read an article somewhere which stated that Russia put pressure on Turkmenistan to lower its price for natural gas in order to be able to make the Ukraine deal, such as that deal was. Looks like now there may be some grumbling on the Turkmen's part. Maybe they don't like it. So will Russia be able to deliver on its deal with Ukraine? Maybe not. Well, don't all these contracts mean anything? Actually, they don't mean much. Around this area of the world where the courts are subject to political pressure, these contracts may memorialize an understanding arrived at on January X, 2006 at 3:10 p.m. but they don't necessarily mean much for the long term. This is to say that this is a political problem or a geopolitical problem rather than a legal problem. In other words, the solution won't be found in a reading of the legal documents.

This is a real problem. Ukraine needs an energy policy now. There are rumors of some thinking on the subject but there needs to be a lot more than that.

Unreliable Ukrainian Opinion Polls

In the first half of February, Ukrainian mass media published 13 OP's which have widely varying results:

PR 22.9 - 32.3%
BYuT 10.4 - 24.9%
NSNU 9.4 - 21.2%
Socialists 4.6 - 8.8%
Communist 2.7 - 7.4%
Lytvyn bloc 2.6 - 5.7%
Vitrenko bloc 2.2 - 6.9%

Observers [Institute of Mass Information, Grani+, Ukr Pravda, and others] suggest that this probably due to deliberate manipulation and deceit by more than one of the political parties in the race and 'naughtiness' by some of the pollsters, several of whom may even be 'virtual'.

The disparity in the OPs devalues the reliability of them all, which may be quite important because opinion polls during the 2004 Presidential elections persuaded some Yushchenko supporters that the elections had been rigged - helping spark off the O.R.

Evidence that the battle over OPs is being taken seriously is provided by events which took place several days ago when Partiya Regioniv successfully petitioned a court in Simferopol, Crimea to suspend the broadcasting license of the largest and most popular non-state Crimean TV station -'Chyernomorskaya' until the end of the election campaign.[A draconian measure].

Apparently one of its programs transgressed laws on Crimean parliamentary elections in announcing results of opinion polls. Journalists organizations say the program's producers and viewers are caught in a battle between the TV station's owners and political groupings, but call on all sides to try and resolve the dispute, for the benefit of viewers.

BYuT in particular have condemned the ruling, and have called on the President of Ukraine and all journalists to question it.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Yanukovych 'Keeps It Simple, Stupid..'

Why is the popularity of such a clumsy, inarticulate and unsympathetic character as Yanukovych increasing in the current Parliamentary [VR] election campaign?

Why is the Partiya Regioniv, dominated by Rinat Akhmetov's faceless factory bosses and business associates, discredited names from the past, football club officials etc., having so few presentable and appealing leaders, topping the OPs?

What they have is a single simple, easy-to-understand mantra - We will work more closely and in a more concilliatory manner with our 'older brothers' and neighbours the Russians, and things will all get back to 'normal'no'.

The orange coalition has become a shambles - the gas crisis with Russia underscoring the depth of disunity. The disagreements over Crimea and the lighthouses, over Russian Black sea fleet, and Russia's ban on meat and dairy imports from Ukraine, all serving to drive home PR's simple message - Ukraine is in a mess because of the current authorities' inability to work with Russia.

After the VR elections the newly-appointed PM will have increased powers; however the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Defence will remain under the President's control. Assuming PR become the largest party in the VR, and the President continues his pro-Western stance, e.g. by sticking with the pro-Western Foreign Minister Tarasiuk, serious problems will spring up very quickly indeed.

The Kremlin will see no need to back off or take a more accommodating attitude towards Ukraine, e.g. on the gas crisis. The hardest hit by this will be the industrial complexes run by Akmetov and his business associates that dominate PR, a situation not good for anybody.

These kinds of scenarios must be going through the minds of Ukraine's business elites. I suspect this is the reason why there is so much speculation on behind-the-scenes coalition deals that are probably being lined up ready to be put into place after the elections in order to prevent a major VR-Presidential conflict, and subsequent crisis.

This maybe the reason why, apart from Yulia T, no other politician is attempting to seriously discredit Yanukovych and the PR in their election campaigning, even though he is such an easy target.

With only 30-odd days left Yanukovych has not had a blow landed on him - he probably can't believe how well everything is going..

Friday, February 17, 2006

Not really, absolutely officially but kinda, actually sort of

This is funny.

Ukraine has not officially asked Russia to switch to market principles as regards the presence of the Black Sea Fleet in the Crimea, a Ukrainian presidential official has said.

"This issue has not been officially raised, but it was mentioned, among others, as an issue for further consideration," Ukrainian presidential foreign policy adviser Kostyantyn Tymoshenko said at a press conference on Wednesday.

Oh, it was raised but not raised officially, so why get in a lather about it? Well, but of course. That makes all the difference in the world. Silly me.

Problems, and straight talk from PM

An American [for the sake of argument] tourist got lost whilst driving around Ireland on a holiday. He pulls up and asks an old local: "Excuse me, can you tell me how I get to Ballygurgle?" The local has a good think, and replies: "You, know what? If I were you...I wouldn't be starting from here."

The same advice may be given to the NSNU and other Orange parties in the parliamentary election campaign. The difficulties and realities faced by Ukrainians are well described in an article in 'National Review'.

Some sensible talk from PM Yekhanurov yesterday in an interview [exerpts on 'ProEuropa'] for leading Polish newspaper 'Gazeta Wyborcza'. He considers the BYuT leadership closer to NSNU than those of PR. "Tymoshenko's people are democrats, like us. We fought together for a new and better Ukraine - this is why they are closer. We have shared values - a striving for democracy, and a belief that elections should be honest - a Western orientation. Where we differ [with BYuT] is our approach to the question of private ownership [of property].

He describes Yanukovych's Party of Regions as containing extremely wealthy people who made fortunes under Kuchma, and who want to gain power again.

He denied that any clandestine agreements or deals have been made with any political opponents: "During elections there are no friends - it's every man for himself." After the elections though, "everything is possible." He calls BYuT a 'nationalcommunist' bloc who wants to redistribute everything that had been privatized in recent years. "This program of privatization forced through by Tymoshenko caused great harm to Ukraine - investors stopped coming to us.."

He did go on to say though, that after the elections he hoped NSNU would be able to find some kind of agreement with BYuT.

So it seems the chances of NSNU-BYuT coalition before polling day are receeding. Yulia T said as much today in Chernihiv.

But after the elections?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

What we have here is a failure to communicate

So what has Yuschenko done wrong?

Some say it's that he dismissed Tymoshenko and split the Orange coalition. It may have split that coalition but I think she was sinking the country and should have been dismissed earlier. That would have given a guy like Yekhanurov time to put together some reform or to try to stabilize things a bit long before the March election campaigning started. So put me in the column that says firing her in September was a mistake. It should have come earlier, like May. But, even so, this isn't the biggest mistake his administration has made.

Others would say that it was the agreement signed with Yanukovych that was the big mistake. It was seen as a betrayal of the Orange Revolution that was a protest against the man. Was that the mistake? I think Yuschenko had to do something to get his candidate in and that seemed a likely thing to do. He wasn't going to get Yulia's support though maybe that would have been possible somehow. But Yanukovych was looking for some legitimacy and this made him a good bet for support. So Yuschenko signed.

But this wasn't the big mistake either.

Or was it that reform was not undertaken fast enough? That is another mistake, though some would say that reform in Ukraine is something for a long haul so it was unlikely that any meaningful reform would take place in s short period of time. This is all true. Expectations were set too high and they were bound to meet up with reality and people would be disillusioned.

Was that a mistake? Yes, it was. But it wasn't the biggest mistake.

All of these were mistakes and have caused problems for Yuschenko right now and may end up causing problems for the country. But they weren't the big mistake. The big mistake is that Yuschenko and his administration have not let the people know what is going on and why it was going on. They needed to make their case to the people and they haven't done it at all. They ahve acted as if good faith and pure hearts are enough. They aren't. There has to be communication with the people. The lack of it has left the people with having to make sense of everything themselves. Cynicism and disillusionment have been the result.

We have been hammering on this for a long time in this blog. To do what he had to do he had to have the people behind him. And you cannot expect the support of the people when they are not let in on what it is you are doing and why it is you are doing it.

That is the big mistake.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

More like proper campaigning..

Nice photo of Yulia at a St Valentine's Day Bash...

At a meeting in Nizhyn yesterday Yuliya Tymoshenko said: "If Yanukovych wins, his dreadful past will become our terrible future.. will will have one big clan, [in which] one department will be called Verkhovna Rada, another the Cabinet of Ministers, and Ukraine will be their limited company." She went on: "Yanukovych's list contains not only persons who have been charged with crimes, but who are on wanted lists, [on] matters related to murder...names of those who have a criminal past, who were tried for homicide, for stealing hats, for rape.."

Something different--Hollywood hasn't changed

I was looking for an apt quote for something I had written and I came across this one I just couldn't' resist posting here:

Its [Hollywood's] idea of "production value" is spending a million dollars dressing up a story that any good writer would throw away. Its vision of the rewarding movie is a vehicle for some glamour-puss with two expressions and eighteen changes of costume, or for some male idol of the muddled millions with a permanent hangover, six worn-out acting tricks, the build of a lifeguard, and the mentality of a chicken-strangler.

Raymond Chandler (1888–1959), U.S. author, Writers in Hollwood,” Atlantic Monthly (Boston, November 1945).

There have been a few exceptions but this has it pegged just about right. Not much has changed in 60 years.

Speculation on coalitions

Lots of speculation in the Ukrainian media on possible pre-election and post-election coalition deals and combinations. Ukraine's big businessmen would probably settle for an NSNU-Partiya Regioniv arrangement. Some say that this is a 'done deal';
others say that a NSNU-BYuT + small fry deal will be done by the week-end.

PR-Socialist-Communist arrangements are even being discussed.

My guess is that most electors will take a rather cynical view of any coalition Scotch-taped together before polling day.

A truer picture of Ukrainian politics is painted in an illuminating article in 'Ukrainska Pravda' which reveals into which parties Ukraine's richest and most influential businessmen are 'placing' their people. Maybe they'll run it in English.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Who's telling porkies? [2]

cf. Who's telling porkies?

Press reports quoting a conversation between Minister of Fuel and Energy Plachkov and Head of the President's secretariat Rybachuk state there are Ukrainian citizens lurking behind RosUkrEnergo. "Those who founded the company, in the days of Kuchma still remain.." said Plachkov; while Rybachuk admitted persons with Ukrainian citizenship but not in administrative structures, could be beneficiaries.

Analysts estimate that RosUkrEnergo will make well over $1Bn [maybe near $2Bn] in profits this year. With such sums involved it's beggars belief that people at the top, both Russia and Ukraine don't know who they are and what's going on..

Update: Today PM Yekhanurov in the VR denied there are Ukrainian citizens amongst the founders of RUE..

Monday, February 13, 2006

Gas supplies short to Europe again--Russia

Italy says that Russian gas supplies will be 16.2% short of demand for the third consecutive day. I wonder what other countries are also being shorted.

LEvko comments: An article in today's London 'Times' entitled 'Stormy' G8 fails to win Russian energy deal shows that Europeans are beginning to get increasingly anxious about the Russia's ability to provide reliable gas supplies. A quote:

[At a G8 finance ministers' meeting in Moscow over the weekend] European countries at the G8 finance ministers’ meeting tried to hold their host nation to its pledges on energy security at the weekend, amid concern over Russia’s brief suspension of gas supplies to Ukraine. Specifically, France called on Russia to accept the terms of the Energy Charter Treaty, which guarantees the free movement of energy supplies. Russia has signed, but not ratified, the treaty.

'Donetskiye' in Kyiv

Just a year ago Scott posted a piece from the 'Berliner Zeitung' including this:

The bad things got worse in 2002, when the governor of the Donetsk oblast Viktor Yanukovych became the prime minister of Ukraine. Many people believe that Donbas is a mini-totalitarian state within Ukraine ruled by mafia that merged thoroughly with the local state apparatus. Whether exaggerated or not, the rumours became rather palpable when "donetskiye" ("Donetskites") massively flowed to Kyiv and elsewhere to take over numerous government positions, luxury apartments, and tasty businesses. In popular discourse, they effectively replaced the "new Russians" and "new Ukrainians", the ridiculous personages of post-Soviet jokes, infamous for their greed, stupidity, and boastfulness."
One of the reasons for Kyivites' staunch support of the Orange Revolution was well-grounded fear of the Donetskiye, particularly amongst the better off. Partiya Regioniv, is now leading Opinion Poll's nationally, but is in a lowly third position in Kyiv.

It's looking likely that PR will be the largest single party in the new VR after March 26th elections - many of its deputies arriving in Kyiv having distinctly shady backgrounds. How are Kyivites going to accept this, I wonder? Especially if the Donetskiye start behaving as they did in 2002.

p.s. The BBC will be broadcasting a radio prog on 16th February in their excellent 'Crossing Continents' series: 'Ukraine's HIV/AIDs epidemic.' which can also be heard on the net.

Sadly, "Ukraine now has the highest rate of HIV infection in Europe, estimated at over 15 times the percentage of the UK"

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The TV campaign

The TV campaign is in full swing. The ads have been up for awhile. Party of the Region's went up first. People picking through trash, cold and hungry, all black and white. Things were better with us and they can be better again is the theme. (On cheap oil and natural gas once again?)

Our Ukraine's ad harks back to the OR and says, paraphrasing, "We said no to bandits and took back our rights" and ends with "Don't abandon the Maidan!" I really wish they would get better advice. Maybe they know something I don't but the people I talk to think the Maidan was betrayed by Yuschenko, at teh very least. And some say by Yulia too.

Yulia isn't advertising but she is having rallies that give out McDonald's coupons. The personal touch?

We did see an ad for Viche which was bizarre. Kind of hard to explain but it had Japanese style drummers and it looked sort of New Age. To me it was what a Scientology ad would look like if they advertised.

They are an odd party. They have a telegenic spokeswoman and they feature some younger candidates. I am suspicious that they have been set up by some opposition money bags to siphon off support from Our Ukraine--maybe younger voters. They were one of the two parties that were asked for a response to Yuschenko's address on the TV channel we watched the other night. The other was Yanukovych.

Yanukovych for his part is talking issues. Maybe that's because his American handlers are hammering that into him. That's a change though. In the last election, he relied on his machine to make his case with administrative resources and bullied and threatened the rest of the time. To see him talking about issues is a whole lot better, even though he's not all that facile with them.

Pora has been advertising too. They are pushing Klitchko and their ads look an awful lot like Our Ukraine's in color and in style. Maybe they see themselves as the rightful heirs of the Maidan?

The ads have been relatively sedate. We'll see if it stays that way.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Speculation on VR election results

More opinion polls have been published, including one on the NTN TV site [a channel close to Partiya Regioniv]. They project the new Parliament will comprise PR 185 seats, NSNU 113, BYuT 86, Socialists 37, Lytvyn's bloc 21, and Commies 20.

Another OP on the UNIAN site today has PR with 161 seats, BYuT with 107, NSNU with 74, Socialists with 39, Communists with 35, and Lytvyn's bloc and Nataliya Vitrenko's bloc both at 17.

Big businesses hate uncertainty and instability. A PR-NSNU coalition would have some chance of being robust and withstand some migration of deputies to other parties. Yanukovych, #1 on the PR list, could well be jettisoned as candidate for PM in order that NSNU feel better about being junior partner in the coalition.

Shutting out Yulia Tymoshenko would enable the big business sponsors of both NSNU and PR to breathe easier, as she represents a threat to their interests.

Oligarchs back in charge then after the ructions of the last year and a half..Ukraine has had its bit of excitement, maybe its for the best..[If only..]

p.s. A video of yesterday's 'punch-up' in the VR can be seen here . In the words of a song my dad used to sing: 'Nits nikomu sya ne stalo, tylko trokhy krvi sya lyalo..[pre-war 1/2 Polish 1/2 Ukrainian argot..]

More legislative non-acts

The Parliament voted yesterday to exempt Nikopol from re-privatization. The Rada has spoken so that should end it right? Not really. This may be another one of those things the legislature passes which is promptly ignored by the administration.

So what will the Rada do if they are ignored? Maybe Lytvyn will make another speech where he deplores the fact that the legislature speaks but is then ignored. Or maybe they'll pass another piece of legislation condemning their vote being ignored. That'll show them, it will!

But again, legislatures like the Rada here, can't just pass things that are then ignored. It strikes at their authority which, for this legilsature, isn't exactly a done deal yet. What surprises me is that Lytvyn hasn't been more careful to hoard the Rada's authority than this. He did this pretty well during the OR. His problem though is that he wants to take his shot at the president in honor of the election to come, but he is looking around for ways to avoid any blowback. Won't happen. He though has been a big disappointment recently.

So what will happen? I suspect the government will sell Nikopol. Maybe then the Rada deputies can take that one to the people in the coming election and make the case how the big bad government sold an oligarchic company out from under its rich, well-heeled, and Cyprus sunned owners. I bet that will sit well with people who are making about $200 a month or less.

So it's another hit the legislature has taken that it set in motion itself. A roundhouse punch that went around to far and hit them. Couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of guys. (And it is predominantly guys.)

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Akhmetov’s shuffle, and Partiya Regioniv’s VR election list

It's looking increasingly as if Partiya Regioniv will be the largest party in the Verkhovna Rada after the March 26th elections. PR leader Viktor Yanukovych's facial de-wrinkling treatments are giving him a burnished and confident glow, his leering smile resembling the glint on a coffin nameplate... But enough of the metaphors..

I have already written about the dubious and sinister composition of the PR party election list. The party's unofficial 'capo' and financier is billionaire Rinat Akhmetov; 38 of the top 100 candidates on the PR election list are direct subordinates who manage his companies and businesses. [In terms of party influence Yanukovych himself is probably #3, behind former chair of Dontesk Oblast Council and Akmetov's close associate, Boris Kolesnikov.]

But why is the party list so heavily loaded with Akhmetov's men, many of who have such suspicious criminal backgrounds?

Some answers are provided in a recent article by Sergey Garmash published on the Ostrov website [UkrPravda have also run it in Ukrainian].

Garmash writes there have been long-standing rumors that Akmetov, in order to clean up his image with Western investors, has wanted to clear out from his entourage a lot of the 'old-school' guys who came to prominence in what were the Donbas region's 'Dark Ages' in the 1990's . They are to be replaced by a new generation of bright-eyed and bushy tailed 'Oxford-trained' MBA's, as well as other clean-cut professional managers 'with American smiles'.

Akhmetov considers, quite reasonably, that such changes will ease entry into European markets, attract investors, and increase the efficiency of various branches of his business empire to 'yevropeyskyi stadart'. At the same time the 'old-school guys' who he has put on the election list and who enter the Verkhovna Rada after the elections will provide him with a relatively large, loyal block of 'voting-button pushers'. As compensation for their loss of position in Akmetov's empire, they will receive compensation in the form of political status, as well as handy Parliamentary immunity from prosecution.. Neat..

Garmash suggests that this may even all be happening with the agreement of the present authorities, and wonders if the new business elites are to be a screen set up merely for public consumption.

What is not clear to me though is how readily will these subordinates accept being moved from their business positions into the VR, and what will their activities comprise when they move to Kyiv and get bored with day-to-day politics?

Thursday roundup

Here are some things from here:

--It is cold once again here in Kiev though not as cold as it was before. Going outside this afternoon, we saw various electronic thermometers reading anywhere from -15ºC to -9ºC. That’s a pretty big difference, anywhere from 5ºF to 15ºF. But it is cold whichever it is.

--There have been close to 800 deaths from the cold. Not good. Most of them have been the homeless and the intoxicated. We have called the ambulance before on guys passed out on the ground in mid-winter. They just don’t seem to be able to make it home. It’s a pity either way. Alcohol here is a scourge.

--Ukraine will not renew the agreement with Russia over the Crimean naval bases when it expires in 2017. Maybe this will relieve some of the tension there. Probably not.

--Yuschenko is apparently upset with the closed trial of the Gangadze defendants. I think Yuschenko wants it open to the public so that it will be made clear to all that something is being done about the murder. That will not satisfy all though and maybe not many. Some think Kuchma, the former president, ordered the murder because of Gangadze’s reporting. But there is no evidence of it other than some equivocal, though intriguing, statements on audio tape. It will be interesting to see if the court opens it up in response to Yuschenko’s appeal. My view of this will probably not endear me to too many people.

--261 houses still remain without heat in Alchervsk. We’re getting there though it looks like. There have been buses taking the elderly out of the city to warmer places, that is, warmer buildings in other areas of Ukraine.

--Yuschenko condemned the publication by a local newspaper of the cartoons that have caused such a storm of protests by Muslims. Basically, he considers it to have been poor taste. I can agree with him that some things ought not to be published if it is simply a matter of holdings something up for ridicule. To be able to publish something is not the same thing as saying that it is right to publish that thing. But the cartoon I am familiar with is anything but anti-Islam and publishing it does not ridicule Islam at all. As a matter of fact, it might be taken as saying that the actions of Islamists ridicules the prophet Mohammed and what he tried to do. I do have more to say on this but later.

And in the category of stories inspired by not quite true events, we suggest the following:

--The government of Ukraine continues to allege that the Russian military is using leased property in Crimea for commercial purposes. But a spokesman for the Russian military said that no leased property was being used for anything other than for military purposes. When asked what a McDonald’s franchise had to do with the military, the Defense Ministry spokesman pointed to the military inspired interior décor of the restaurant which was created by a decorator from the construction company of a top general. This, of course, explained everything.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Who's telling porkies?

[porky - London cockney rhyming slang: pork-pie = lie]

In a media interview on the eve of departure for a visit to Spain yesterday, President Putin, commenting on fraudulent Russian-Ukrainian gas deals over the last 15 years, said: "RosUkrEnergo with its opaque 50% Ukrainian portion, is taking a holiday".

Yushchenko has declared in the past that there are no Ukrainian state structures amongst the owners of RUE, and looked at a loss for words when asked about this in a TV interview.

Today PM Yekhanurov also denied involvement of Ukrainian companies. Fuel and Energy minister Plachkov is to contact RUE and ask them to reveal information about their activities and their founders, at the request of the government.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Hope yet for Our Ukraine in VR elections

All Ukrainian opinion polls should include a ‘health warning,' but one which the normally staid 'Korespondent' has also published has Yanukovych's Party of Regions [PR] at 24%, Our Ukraine [NSNU] 22%, Tymoshenko's eponymous BYuT 15%, Communists 9%, Socialists 8% and Lytvyn's block at 5%. The poll claims there is has been a drift of support from BYuT to Our Ukraine; [maybe a sign of disapproval of BYuT organizing the 'ouster' of PM Yekhanurov and his cabinet, by the VR?]. They also suggest Our Ukraine supporters are more likely to cast a vote on polling day than supporters of other parties. So, it seems, plenty to play for before the March VR elections.

NSNU have not started delivering any telling political blows against PR who, as Scott has said, are a seriously target-rich environment. However, unlike BYuT, they cannot attack them on the gas front, even though the seriously shady RosUkrEnergo was established by former President Kuchma, PR leader Yanukovych, and Yuriy Boyko [a former head of Naftogaz] on 29th July 2004, shortly after a meeting between Putin and Kuchma. [Some observers have suggested that it was set up to provide 'off-the-books' funds for Yanukovych's 2004 Presidential campaign.]

The creation of the controversional JV UkrGazEnergo was approved 31st January this year with indecent haste, by the Ukrainian State Anti-monopoly Committee, before its launch 2 days later. The Anti-monopoly Committee happens to be chaired by #29 on the PR list, Aleksei Kostusyev. He had undoubtedly checked everything out with, and had been given the 'green light' by his party leader Yanukovych, to delare the creation of the new JV 'kosher'.

UkrGazEnergo has been criticized in the strongest terms by a former vice-chair of the Anti-monopoly Committee, and former Ministers of Fuel and Energy, and will form a back-drop to the VR election campaign. There is certainly disquiet - In a non scientific straw poll , when respondents were asked to register their opinions on the new JV, 52% considered it to be a 'forced compromise', and 41% thought the JV was a trap. Only 4% said that it had a good perspective.

The gas business may well cost NSNU votes - the sooner Yekhanurov can find a 'technical problem' and stall on this, the better. Especially, as in the words of an excellent article on the Russian/Ukrainian gas war [quoted by several bloggers] in today's 'Moscow Times': "Many [commentators] say that no matter who ends up in power after the March elections, the current agreement will be redrawn."

There are reports that some kind of Orange coalition will coalesce, maybe even by the end of this week. If it does, then perhaps there will be a 'return of the prodigal son' effect too.
So hope yet..

Gazprom supplies to Europe fall off again

Gas supplies to Europe are down again. Gazprom refuses to say why other than that it's weather related. This means they aren't pointing the finger at Ukraine, which they have been pretty quick to do. I wonder what that means? Could it be that they finally have things arranged the way they want them?

Monday, February 06, 2006

A Ukrainian family swept up by US immigration

This doesn't sound very good:

What happened was that Vassili, originally here in 1991 on a tourist visa, applied for asylum because, he says, his participation in the then fledgling Rukh party endangered him and his family.

He was denied asylum, but appealed the decision. Meanwhile, he says, he and other members of his family continued to receive work authorization cards. Vassili says he assumed that, because he continued to receive those cards, because he had hired lawyers -- spending more than $10,000 -- to work on the case, and because he had heard nothing from immigration officials, he and his family could stay. "Mistake," he says over a telephone, from behind the Plexiglas wall.

Another assumption that was dead wrong: Because he lived like a middle-class, hard-working, taxpaying, guy -- paying tuition to send his kids to Catholic schools, then to college, and strapping himself with a mortgage on his new house -- he thought he could catch a break. "We do not hide," he says. "We do not break laws. Why are we in prison? Why are we treated like criminals?"

They of course were paying taxes and contributng to their adopted community. Others here illegally do none of these things. Yet the Karnaoukhs will likely be deported. And the stats will look good on next month's report. But at what kind of price?

(via CyberCossack)

Burning embassies

I don't know if anyone has mentioned this or not, but it is against international law to burn an embassy. To put this another way, embassies and consulates are protected by international law.

Just thought you ought to know.

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A Monday (slow news day) roundup

Here are some things from here:

--The sun is out and it is warmish today, relatively speaking. But tell that to the people in Alchervsk

--414 houses remain without heat in the city of Alchevsk. Fortunately, it isn’t as cold as it was. (But tell that to the ducks—see below.) That is 175 better than last week.

and to the children

--5425 children were sent from Alchevsk to the Crimea and to other areas of
Ukraine. (And the rest are doing what precisely in Alchervsk?)

---It was reported here last week that 300 ducks died near Alushta, Crimea of avian flu. This finding was reversed a few days later. (This is true.) The real cause of death? They froze to death. (Also true.) “It was a dead giveaway,” an official said on condition of anonymity. “We took some food out on four separate days and they wouldn’t eat—they just stood there like lawn statues.” To officially post the cause of death, the government, though, is waiting for documentation certifying the food had the proper nutritional content for ducks.

And under the category of stories inspired by not quite actual events--the "fake but true" category-- we could not resist the following:

--Allegations surfaced this week on a relatively obscure website (with a “foreign” name), that Gallia Ivanova and Masha Rosenko, on the list of candidates for the Rada from Party of the Regions, were the bridge partner and manicurist of one of the more famous candidate’s wives, and were also well-known feather dancers on the Donetsk tent pub circuit. When asked why these two were on the ticket, Victor Yanukovych is rumored to have said, “Razom nas bahato. Nas ni podiloty,” in perfect Ukrainian. This, of course, explained everything.

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Saturday, February 04, 2006

Gas gas gas..jumping jack flash..

On 1st January 2006 Russia turned off gas valves supplying Ukraine with its gas - in the next days, Ukraine's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, then President Yushchenko, issued strongly worded statements talking of "blackmail,” and “attempts to destabilize the Ukrainian economy.” Ukraine at the same time significantly reduced flows of Russian gas passing via Ukraine to European customers.

By 4th January after a storm in western media, truce was declared and an agreement hastily cobbled together and signed in Moscow by Gazprom, and just a few top men from Naftogaz Ukrainy. The agreement was leaked to the press by Yulia Tymoshenko, and it became apparent that its signatories had been "economical with the truth" - there were many loose ends that hadn't been nailed down, and murky middlemen would become sole providers of gas for the Ukrainian market. Though President Yushchenko described the agreement as a success, even crediting Putin for this, the ensuing scandal was used by the political opposition to ‘ouster’ the Cabinet in Ukraine's parliament.

The agreement stipulated that a JV be formed by 1st February 2006 between Ukraine's state gas company Naftogaz and the shady intermediary RosUkrEnergo, to supply gas to Ukraine's internal market. [RosUkrEnergo, is the sole provider of gas which it purchases from Turkmenistan, Russia's Gazprom, and elsewhere and delivers to the Ukrainian borders. It is itself jointly owned by Gazprom and name-plate companies with secret beneficiaries.]

On 2nd February the new JV, the rather clumsily named UkrGazEnergo, was offically launched, and RosUkrEnergo and UkrGazEnergo signed a contract whereby gas was to be supplied to the Ukrainian market at one of the lowest rates in Europe - $95/Th.cu.m. for the next five years.

But later, a RosUkrEnergo representative stated the the price was subject to variation. Finally a spokesman for President Yushchenko added to the confusion, saying: "the President expects that inter-governmental Russian-Ukrainian agreement will confirm a stable price for five years."

After the furtive way the 4th January agreement was presented and the scandals this caused, one would think that all parties would have learned their lesson and would be completely 'up front' with the 2nd February contracts. But hey, but this is Ukraine..

Today the highly respected Kyiv weekly, 'Dzerkalo Tyzhnya' [and others] have published a further six secret and previously undisclosed documents which had been signed on 4th January in addition to the original agreement. These will be closely scrutinized by opposition parties, but it is already clear that the deal is even more convoluted and murky than anyone thought.

Many including 'NY Times' have commented on the doubious nature of these shenanigans, but it seems that Russian and Ukrainian leaders have no problem brazenly continuing arranging gas business in this manner despite the furore it is all causing.

Domestic Ukrainian households, whose gas is supplied at well under the $95 price mainly from gas fields inside Ukrainian territory, may not be particularly affected by all of this. But a sceptical observer may conclude:

[1] The continued use of the secretive intermediate operator RosUkrEnergo provides possibility for Russian/Ukrainian ruling power elites to continue skimming off vasts amounts of cash annually.
[2] Gazprom and these power elites will have greater say in Ukraine’s internal gas pricing structure, and, as the newly-revealed documents seem to indicate, greater control of Ukraine's gas transit system and its vast storage facilities, in particular.
[3] Because Ukrainian political parties are controlled to a greater or lesser extent by oligarchic industrial groupings, the intermediate operator and its secret benefactors will be able to apply pressure and damage any oligarchic adversaries seen posing a commercial or political threat.
[4] The 4th January volte-face, and the opaque manner in which dealings have been arranged so far indicates that there are still many unanswered questions in the Ukraine/Russia gas saga.

An afterthought. Several years ago in Great Britain the country was almost brought to a standstill in just a few days by several hundred striking gasoline delivery-truck drivers. So who, ultimately, has control of fuel deliveries?

Rumors are circulating that Oleksandr Tretyakov is being proposed for CEO of the newly launched UkrGazEnergo. The current acting head is Ihor Voronin. Gazprom Deputy Chairman of the Board of Trustees Alexandr Ryazanov has been appointed head of its supervisory council.

Tretyakov was a close aide to President Yushchenko until he was accused by former SBU chief Olexander Turchinov of covering up for the “transnational criminal system” that he claimed RosUkrEnergo to be. Tuchinov is one of Yulia Tymoshenko’s closest confidants, and resigned when Tymoshenko was sacked by the President. Voronin also featured in Turchinov’s investigations.

It seems that most of the Ukrainian cabinet were unaware of details of the 4th January 2006 Gazprom/Naftogaz documents until 31st January. PM Yekhanurov suggested on 2nd February that if any of them wants to resign, then they should go. Some suggest there may be legal reasons for the agreements to be invalidated on the grounds that representatives of the Ukrainian side exceeded their authority in signing the documents.

Today, in an interview Ukrainian Minister of Finance Viktor Pynzenyk called the agreement by RosUkrEnergo and Naftogaz Ukrainy to form the JV UkrGazEnergo as being ‘not particularly reliable... We do not have command of accurate information on what conditions the JV is to be created… The agreement is insufficiently reliable to enable the country to feel at ease about the gas supply balance, and of its price.’

Pynzenyk raises an interesting and obvious point that others have missed. He claims that about 7.5 Bn.c.m. of gas are used to drive the pumps and compressors that help transit gas bound for European countries via Ukraine. The cost of this gas should be directly linked to the value of the gas being transported. Yet this link has now been broken.

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Corruption, and moral dilemmas, Part 3

When driving home from a trip to the mountains with Alex, a Ukrainian colleague, we had been stopped by a traffic policeman who Alex had bribed. To further try explain his actions, he proposed the following scenario:

"Just suppose....

You're a smart morally upright guy, have an attractive young wife, delightful children, but live in a rather run-down apartment. You work in a ministry, or city hall in a position of authority, or some such, but the pay is poor. You suspect by their better lifestyles that your peers and superiors are 'on the take', even though most of them are dim bozos.

One day at lunchtime a guy you vaguely know taps you up and makes a highly generous and tempting proposal - half up-front. Pull a file, or put one to the top of a stack, pass planning permission or block it... whatever... If you do, it there's a bundle in it for you - a serious sum of money, say a year or two's salary, or more. You baulk at the idea, but the guy is persistent. He says: 'Look, check the matter a little closer, Think it through, have a chat with your wife..I'll get back to you tomorrow, OK?'

You get back to the office and do a check. It's a borderline case - could go either way. . Rules would however have to be 'tested to the limit for elasticity' because legal guidelines are not particularly clear. Other similar commercial interests are 'sniffing around' too - it's not going to make a deal of difference which ever one is successful. You know in your heart what you should or should not do, but whatever you decide you know you would be able to explain it away, and you know you'll get away with it, for sure.

But you want to do the right thing..

You're thinking about it for the rest of the day after you get home from work.The neighbour upstairs is drunk and noisy again, and the other neighbour's kids are playing up. Your's wife is tired and stressed out. You've often talked about maybe buying some land and building a house with a garden..or maybe a car better than the old 'semyorka' so you can live out of town with your parents in their farmhouse.

You're thinking, the kids will need someone to pay their way into, and through university, and you've not had a decent holiday for a while. Sooner or later you'll need the money. Do you consult your wife - ask for her advice on whether to 'trouser' the bribe? What will she think or say? She'll probably leave the decision up to you anyway. Then, suppose you turn it down? What will she say in the months and years to come? Again, probably nothing - she's a good person and you love each other dearly. She trusts your judgement.

But what about when you will be having a row about money, maybe when unexpected problems strike, like the need for expensive specialized medical care, expensive drugs, etc ? What will the wife say then? "You had the chance, and you turned it away...Now we're broke, you crazy..so and so..

Then there's the mother-in-law? What is she going to say to you, if you turn it down? She'll never forgive you. Everytime you meet it will be, 'You should have taken it, you know...if only for the grandkids sake.. Your parents who aren't getting any younger either, they are getting more financially dependent on you too. And the kids, when they are a bit older? "You blew the chance dad - and we're still in this old dump.

But you want to do what's right.

You're in bed, can't sleep because it's all going through your mind. The worst thing is that if you don't 'do the business' and take it, then you know, others, and your superiors, certainly will.

You get to work next morning, and the guy 'phones. What do you tell him?

Tymoshenko will not support joining NATO?

Populism is as populism does:

Deputy chief of the Block of Yulia Tymoshenko Mykola Tomenko claims that BYT will not support Ukraine’s joining NATO, until this issue is not supported by public.

According to an UNIAN correspondent, M.Tomenko claimed this in a live interview with VGT-6 television during his visit to Vinnytsia.

“We may enter such a serious organization as NATO only if the majority of Ukrainian citizens want it”, said the BYT deputy chief. According to him, presently the majority of Ukrainian citizens do not understand the advantages of joining NATO.

The rest here.

One of the real fallacies abroad is thinking that any regime today can lay claim to being democratic. None are. Though we say they are democratic and that they are democracies, they are actually republican government—representative democracies. This means that certain people are elected to serve the interests of the people at large. These representatives make the decisions for the people rather than the people making them. And these representatives are elected for a period of time during which period they cannot be removed except for what amount to crimes or malfeasance.

If we had real democracies, the people would make the decisions on any policy of government. It would be the people as legislators—and enforcers, by the way. But that doesn’t go far enough either. If we truly had a democracy, that is, a system of government responsive to the desires of the people, then an official would have to wear a device that would track what the people want. And when a majority is reached either to do an act or not do it, the official would have to either do it or cease doing it depending. And that would be true even down to the level of what is said or not said. If the people do not want a particular official to use a particular word, the will of the people would rule. Vox populi, vox deii. The wishes of the people are the only thing that matters.

Government, however, would not be possible if this were the case even though now this is much more feasible to do. (Some people are advocating just this type of thing by the way. And all this concern about polls to augur by is much of the same thing.) No treaty could be negotiated, nor legislation could ever be passed and no criminal could ever be apprehended, tried and convicted, if this were the case. It would be government by committee and that committee would be the committee of the whole people. And, pardon the expression, it would be a rabble.

As it is, representatives are elected for a term of years and the people are not allowed in to express their wishes except for every 2 years, 4 years, or 6 years depending. This allows an insulation from the people that is intended to create a space for the representative to act in the common good. This means that the common good should be the interest. The people will vote on it later by voting on the representative. By that time, however, passions may have cooled, the result may be clearer or the argument made might have a better chance of carrying the day. The point is that sometimes the people demand what is not good for them, or they sometimes demand what is not good for a sizeable minority of people. The mob is still a distinct possibility.

Is this elitist? Well, yes. That is the form of government we have though. It has worked very well over the past centuries. And it is only when the public good is not the primary focus of government that we have had problems.

Usually, the people arguing for this kind of thing argue this way because they think they have a greater chance of getting power by yoking themselves to the people. Wherever the people go, they go—and they will always claim to have been there first. But it is demagoguery, literally. And it can create the likes of a Hugo Chavez. And this sort of reasoning can also form the basis for a regime like Putin’s. (Protect me and give me some stability and we will forgive your use and possibly abuse of power. But that argument though is for another time.)

So why do I say this? I don’t know whether joining NATO is good for Ukraine or bad for Ukraine, I haven’t thought it through yet. But whether it is good or bad for Ukraine ought to be the focus of attention. And, if it is good, a statesman would bring the people along with him—or her.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Corruption, and moral dilemmas, Part 2

Part 1 of this post is here.

I had been driving with a Ukrainian colleague, Alex, back from a weekend from in the mountains, when we were stopped by a DAIschcyk [traffic cop].

A few minutes later after Alex and the DAIschyk had gone into the bushes, they returned. I saw them through the windshield exchange a few words, and shake hands. The DAI'schyk smiled pleasantly, waved, and wished us both a safe journey home.
We drove off into the night. After a few minutes, I asked Alex what had happened: 'Did you bribe the guy?' Rather annoyed, I continued, 'If you had done such a thing in my country, then there would be a strong likelyhood of a night in the police-station, and I would have missed my flight home'.

As we carried on driving he admitted that he had passed the DAI'schyk and his pal operating the radar trap a couple of 'bloky' of cigarettes, as well as some cigarette promo trinkets. He started to explain in a relaxed manner, why matters which look at first glance corrupt and unethical, are sorted out as they are in Ukraine.

First of all he admitted that he had slightly exceeded the speed limit, [although I hadn't seen any restriction signs] so in a manner of speaking, he had incurred punishment, and justice had been done.

Had he been booked and received a ticket, they he would have had to return within a few days to the small town, attend a court hearing, and pay a fine. Thanks to the DAIschyky taking a 'backhander', a serious inconvenience had been avoided.

As for the DAI'schyky, well, in all probability having been placed on a radar patrol, they too would have to pay-off a superior, who put them on duty that particular night, with a share of part of their ill-gotten gains. And he in turn, would have to periodically pay off in some way the area controller, and so on, in a pyramid of corruption.

My reaction to this was: 'Well yes, but you can't run a country like this,' and suggested that in such a structure, it is the poorest, at the bottom of the muck-heap, who, relatively, suffer the most,'

Alex had a think, and replied by presenting a scenario to me.

[To be continued..]

Gazprom goes British

Great Britain escaped the fallout over the Gazprom-Ukraine row that affected other parts of Europe. Gazprom may now be a new neighbor. Gazprom considers bid for British Gas owner Centrica.

Russian plans to seize control of a major part of Britain's gas supply industry hardened last night when Gazprom revealed that a bid for British Gas's parent group Centrica was "possible".

Alexander Shkuta, deputy chairman of Gazprom's export business, Gazexport, said a takeover of Centrica, which has 12 million gas customers, was being "analysed and investigated".

The statement triggered alarm in government circles, but in the City it sent shares in Centrica racing 25% at one stage before they closed 11% higher at 300p, adding nearly £1bn to its market capitalisation - it is now valued at nearly £11bn.

I find the choice of words pretty interesting. The article seems to tilt a certain way when they use words like "seize" and "control." For a maverick investor, nobody would say anything if these words were used and that is probably the template they work with. But this is Gazprom a company that has shown that it might be a political company or a geopolitical company reflecting the policies of teh Kremlin. Or at the very least, it is a companywith the interests of a select few in the Kremlin at heart. This is not business business. And the possibilities suggested by the Ukraine gas crisis must be keeping some people up at night thinking about it. Maybe they'll end up with a kind of China solution--one business, two companies. One run like it has been, the other like a business. You can though hear Gazprom's execs now swearing that gas will not be used as a political tool.

The deal is only in bid stages it looks like. Gazprom will have to clear a number of hurdles before it will be allowed to buy the company. If it does go through, it ought to be real interesting though.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Corruption, and moral dilemmas, Part 1

About 10 years ago when I was on a visit to Ukraine, a bright Ukrainian businessman, let's call him Alex, and for the sake of argument a tobacco company executive, invited me for a weekend's hiking to the Carpathian mountains. I had been spending some time in Ukraine on other business, and checking out my family roots etc.

It was a beautifully late warm summer and he had booked rooms in a well-appointed resort hotel. He had been a HR manager in a large tobacco factory in Ukraine which had recently been taken over by a western multinational company. They had fast-tracked formation of a JV without going through normal channels, thanks, apparently, to large bribes slipped to persons in the then Ukrainian President's office, which gave the multinational immediate access and a head start in the Ukrainian market.

The new factory owners saw that Alex was talented, a multi-linguist, charming, and an effective manager. They sent him to North America for management courses, and he was one of the guys leading a new marketing campaign.

We were returning back late on a warm Sunday evening in his company car, which had discrete company logo's on its doors. We'd had a really pleasant break in the mountains, got a little tanned, collected some mushrooms in the forests, and purchased some Hutsul artefacts for me, and a large box of delicious fresh cherries for his wife, in a mountain village. We were both in good spirits.

Out of the blue, as we were driving out of a small town along the way, a DAI'schyk [traffic cop] popped out from behind bushes and waved his baton, summoning us to stop. Alex smiled and said: 'Don't worry, I'll handle this,' and opened his window. The smart-looking DAI'schyk approached and addressed Alex in a formal but correct manner. It was immediately clear that Alex had exceeded the speed limit by just a few KmPH, and was being booked. The DAI'schyk requested Alex get out of the car.

Alex asked him politely if he smoked - to which the policemen replied: 'Yes, naturally'.
Alex asked if he could get his jacket out of the trunk, opened it, took out his briefcase, and went off into the bushes with the DAI'schyk, leaving me, rather worried, in the car.
[To be continued..]

A bit of a roundup

Some items from here:

--It hasn’t been all that cold here for the past few days. Only around 32ºF. That’s quite balmy compared to what it was. Maybe we’ll go for a swim.

--589 people died and 3,874 were hospitalized in January on account of the cold.

--557 apartment buildings in Alchervsk are without heat still. (Details here. “Houses” means apartment buildings.) Yuschenko said the mayor ought to resign for it. I’m sure Yanukovych will have a fix for it when his party’s in power. Whatever that fix its, it will make a new millionaire.

--Alchervsk children are on their way to the Crimea along with their teachers. Hope they enjoy it.

--Apparently, Ukraine agreed with the EU to refuse to import steel and other products from the Transdniestria region of Moldova. That was meant to bolster the EU’s efforts to affect a solution in the area. But these products are still being imported into Ukraine. (Can you say “smuggled”? Here that means putting it in a truck and driving it across the border through customs checkpoints. What’s the difference between that and importing? What you have to give up in exchange at the checkpoints.) Are they surprised in Brussels? This now undermines EU policy. Meanwhile, in Kiev, the government still agrees to refuse to import steel and other products from the Transdniestria region.

--Russia refuses to allow the importation of dairy products from Ukraine. The prohibition extends even to European originating dairy products too. The EU and Ukraine have protested. In response, Russia has presented a list of information about the products that needs to be turned over to comply with their phytosanitary regulations. One item purported to be required is information on company output and profits. Apparently, an unprofitable cow is an unsanitary cow.

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Terrific TV debate on gas crisis

Terrific high-quality live TV debate on the Russia-Ukraine gas crisis and the VR constitutional crisis can be seen [in three parts] on the ICTV 'Svoboda Slova' program at:
Many 'big beasts' including Yulia, Moroz, Holovatiy, Lyapina, Byelkovsky, Kaskiv et. al. slugging it out. All get as good as they give..
Definitely a 'must see'

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Avian flu--Alushta, Crimea

According to Radio Era, close to 300 ducks were found dead of avian flu in a campground near Alushta. Alushta is a small town in the Crimea, the penninsula that juts into the Black Sea south of here. (Map here--three across and three down then double click.) Most of the bird flu cases have come from the Crimea.

The report also said that there have been no reported human cases of bird flu but that the government was expecting them to start appearing in the spring and summer.

I don't know why they would be expecting human cases then other than that there would be more people out and maybe more children would be out that might play with birds. That would be the only added risk because because people from the villages here already kill, de-feather, clean and eat chickens, ducks and geese and not under the most hygenic of conditions. (Failing to wash hands thoroughly with soap afterward and using the same cutting board that is used for vegetables and bread even, happen all the time. ) But they are cooked throughly before eating. There is no recipe I know of for raw bird anything.

Notwithstanding the number of bird deaths in the Crimea, this seems to be good news. That there have been so many birds die and yet there hasn't been a single human case is cause for optimism, I would think.

More here and here.

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