Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Misuse of power already

On March 11th President Yanukovych appointed Valeriy Khoroshkovsky as head of the the SBU, the Security Service of Ukraine. Khoroshkovsky is one of Ukraine's biggest TV and media magnates, owner of U.A. Inter Media Group Limited, and majority owner of the 'Inter' - on of Ukraine’s leading television channels. He is worth, by some estimates $2Bn. Quite what qualifies him for the the SBU job is unclear. One would think he has his hands full with his 'day job'.

Several weeks ago some of Khoroshkovsky's companies challenged in court the results of a National Television and Radio Council [of Ukraine] competition set up to distribute television broadcast frequencies. 'Inter' were granted only 20 frequencies out of 89, the remainder went to their competitors, including Channel 5 and TVi.

For some reason the SBU consider this a matter of national security and are now 'putting the squeeze' on the National TV and Radio Council, demanding copies of competition advertisements and rules, minutes of meetings, rulings etc. They are also demanding certified copies of National Council members' CV's, documents relating to their appointment and so on.

Are we going to see more of this kind of thing from the new administration? It is almost inevitable that when some of Ukraine's biggest oligarchs are to be found now in the cabinet of ministers and in other positions of great power they will use these positions for their own ends. Ironically, the new PoR-led parliamentary 'Stability and Reform' coalition depends for its existence on the parliamentary Communist fraction.

p.s. The mysterious death abroad of Ihor Pluzhnikov, the previous owner of 'Inter', has never been fully explained. Maybe the SBU should get onto the case.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

World Bank's prescription for Ukraine

A 15-page World Bank report entitled "Making Ukraine Stronger Post - Crisis", posted several days ago, may be of interest to readers of this blog.

It provides an excellent over-view of the current state of the country and includes details of the bitter medicine the new administration has to administer for the country to get better. The IMF's prescription will no doubt be equally sobering.

There are a lot of recommendations in the WB report that will hurt Yanukovych's and Azarov's friends wonder 'nachalstvo' have been looking glum lately..

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Splits in STARE* already?

This from the Communist Party of Ukraine's official website today:

.."[CPU leader] Peter Symonenko said that he was disturbed by the intention of the Government and President to continue negotiations with the IMF for loans when there is no programme of action formed by the government, when a state budget is yet to be passed, when the national debt is almost equal to the GDP, and when the strategic directions of economic cooperation with other countries and international organizations have yet to be determined."

"We are witnessing how, because of the IMF, the WTO, and the World Bank, large Ukrainian industrial enterprises and agriculture were, and are being destroyed, and how domestic producers are being forced out of the domestic market to the benefit of foreign corporations and companies. And while there is no detailed economic data or estimates of economic gains or losses, conducting talks on new loans is a conscious imposition of a slip knot on the people and country," said the Communist leader.

"It is shameful when the person responsible for the strategy of economic development determines in advance false priorities, such as granting Ukraine associate membership in the EU on who knows what terms, which limit domestic manufacturers in the main sectors of the Ukrainian economy including in the agricultural sector. However, concerning Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Tihipko, it is not surprising. He held the same position under Lazarenko, was minister of economics under Yushchenko, and led the National Bank under Kuchma," added Symonenko.

*PoR/BL/CPU and some odds and ends form 'STARE' - the 'new' "Stability and and Reform" parliamentary coalition.

p.s. The campaign to 'smoke out' new minister of education and science, Dmytro Tabachnyk continues. Six oblast councils passed resolutions demanding his sacking and demos were staged in several cities.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Incensed students to stub out Tabachnyk?

The provocative appointment by president Yanukovych of Dmytro (the dinosaur) Tabachnyk as minister for education and science has quickly given his opponents a cause around which they can rally.

An appeal [in English] to education workers by the president of the prestigious Kyiv Mohyla Academy explains the reasons for the anger felt by many Ukrainians.

Various youth and student organisations in Lviv are staging a protest march and rally in the city on Wednesday. Similar protests will certainly take place elsewhere.

The BYuT-led opposition in parliament are demanding the VR consider Tabachnyk's dismissal at its next session. It is not clear that the goverment will be able to fend off such a motion.

Yanukovych may have 'overreached' himself. The cabinet is already heavily loaded in favour of Ukraine's easternmost oblasts, e.g. 10 ministers are from either the Donetsk or the Luhansk oblast. Another three, including PM Azarov, are Russian-born but grew in in the Donbas region. More than half of Ukraine's oblasts are not represented in the new cabinet at all. The government and particularly the all-important economic and financial levers are completely under Yanukovych's control now. He could, and should have appointed moderates, perhaps from central or western Ukraine for the humanitarian ministries.

In soccer, particularly if you're playing away from home, the priority for the first minutes is to play safe and 'silence the crowd'. Yanukovych should have appointed a far less controversial figure for such a 'touchy' ministry as education and science - this could be his first 'own goal'.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Glum Azarov appointed PM

Azarov's appointment as prime minister of Ukraine today was a strange, dare I say, even Brezhnevite affair? Watch the video here - by their expressions it looks as if both he and Yanukovych were suffering from painful haemorrhoids. The new president couldn't get out of the main session hall quickly enough, interrupting speaker Lytyvn who was addressing the gathered deputies, to shake his hand.

Some are already predicting underlying tensions inside the new Azarov cabinet.

Many of PoR's founders and main financial sponsors have been sent to the back of the queue as minsterial and gubernatorial jobs are being handed out and a battle for influence may be brewing inside the party's ranks.

Maybe Azarov and Yanyk read the results of the latest opinion poll in which 75% of respondents do not support the creation of a new coalition if it breaches the constitution. Almost one half do not believe the new coalition will work effectively.

On 4th March Serhiy Tihipko, in a TV interview, said it would be "a colossal mistake" if Yanukovych signs off the new, constitutionally highly dubious law on formation of parliamentary coalitions. In the event, Yanukovych did sign the law, and guess what, Tihipko joined the new government anyway, as deputy PM responsible for economic questions. Not only that, it seems he has kicked his own political project "Strong Ukraine" into the long grass too. There had been rumours Raisa Bohatyryova was to join Tihipko's political party - her son already headed their Donetsk branch.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Unnatural partners

The Communist Party of Ukraine and Party of Regions are supposed to be partners in the setting up of a new parliamentary coalition. According to the CPU's (rather creepy) official website, their leader Petro Symonenko is already 'having a dig' at president Yanukovych. PoR are bank-rolled by many owners of the country's largest banks and industrial enterprises. They might stink, but clearly their money doesn't..

Symonenko says: "Refusal of the announcement of an all-Ukrainian referendum on NATO and the granting of second state language status to Russian would mean betraying voters who voted for Viktor Yanukovych in the presidential election".

He was responding to a statement by Yanukovych made during a Shevchenko prize awards ceremony on Tuesday in which the president declared his support for the development of the Ukrainian language as a sole state language.

p.s. The CPU's official party programme boasts: "The theoretical and ideological foundations of the party are the teachings of Marx-Engels-Lenin, which are constantly [being] enriched according to reality and change according to new conditions and tasks."

Get outta here...

Monday, March 08, 2010

Yatseniuk makes his play

Following Viktor Yanukovych's victory in last month's presidential elections, PoR fully expected NUNS' parliamentary deputies [and others] to defect in droves and for a new pro-presidential coalition to be quickly formed.

Although Yulia Tymoshenko's has been sacked by VR, a majority of NUNS deputies are not yet ready to join a PoR-led coalition. PoR have been forced to change their tactics and embark on the passing of 'dodgy' anti-constitutional parliamentary procedure laws to enable a new coalition and cabinet of ministers to be established by a simple majority of deputies, rather than by fractions. As yet, no new laws on coalition building have been approved by the new president.

Some commentators consider that the latest maneouvre is a bluff to apply more pressure on NUNS deputies to 'cave in' and join PoR in a new coalition, the reasoning being: "There is still time for you to join us - there may even be some crumbs off the table for you, but if you don't, we'll manage without you in any case."

Though it is vitally important in the current economic mess a stable coalition and new cabinet is formed as quickly as possible, and though it would not necessarily cause much political damage inside the country, Yanukovych may, nevertheless be loathe to pass controversial laws so soon after becoming president.

Today young NUNS-ite Arseniy Yatseniuk, who came 4th in the recent presidential elections, has written an open letter to president Yanukovych with some interesting proposals.

Below is a quick summary:

The main task right now is "to unite the country at any price"

He proposes the following policies:

Passing of a realistic national budget, an audit of national debts, and approval of a financial stabilisation plan.

An effective anti-corruption campaign.

Reform of welfare system.

Implementation of a property tax.

Creation of an effective pension system.

Tax reform.

Reform of the energy sector.

Effective management of strategic assets .

Development of infrastructure.

Stabilisation of the banking system.

Changes in the education and medical sectors.

Development of the agrarian sector.


Question of Ukrainian as single state language is not negotiable, but Russian language to be granted protection by the state.

Russian Black Sea Fleet could remain in Ukrainian bases after 2017 but only if this approved by national referendum. Similarly for NATO membership.

Gas transport consortium not required - Ukraine is capable of running pipeline on its own. But Ukraine needs joint energy company to be formed with EU and Russian partners.

Yatseniuk proposes a three year moratorium on 'hot topics' to help unify the country, and the introduction of an open party list electoral system.

Importantly, he concludes: " Non constitutional attempts by parliamentarians to form a coalition and a government will lead to a deepening of the political crisis, so there are only two possible alternatives: formation of a majority exclusively on the basis of fractions, or pre-term elections".

He proposes the following solution the current impasse : "Announcement of early elections and the legitimate creation of a temporary coalition valid for a period of 60 days until elections can take place."

"Such a decision envisages formation of a caretaker government whose composition is to be determined by you [the president]. The fraction to which I belong should support this decision, but not take responsibility for the actions of this caretaker government, nor enter into it."

Early parliamentary elections would suit Yatseniuk well. After his performance in the presidential elections his political project, 'Front for Changes' could reasonably expect to gain about 30 parliamentary seats. Serhiy Tihipko, who came third in these elections would certainly do well too, he is in favour of early elections too [surprise, surprise] and has called PoR's attempts to change coalition-building rules in parliament "political piracy".

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Stick to the Constitution

Article 83 of Ukraine's constitution is very clear, it states. ....

"A coalition of deputy factions comprising a majority of people’s deputies of Ukraine in the constitutional membership of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine shall be formed in the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on the basis of the results of election and on the basis of the harmonisation of the political platforms. "

Any parliamentary coalition is formed by factions, of which there are currently five, and not by individual deputies.

Because of the difficulty of forming a new coalition and electing a new cabinet led by a PoR premier, the party is proposing the introduction of a new, politically expedient parliamentary 'reglament' or rule - a coalition is to comprise: "a union of deputy fractions, national deputies, into which enter a majority of national deputies from the constitutional body of the Verhkhovna Rada."

The NUNS parliamentary faction has split into smaller groups, and parliament now also includes a number of non aligned deputies who have been kicked out of their factions, so this constitutionally unlawful step may help Viktor Yanukovych and PoR achieve their aim of forming a new majority in parliament and a cabinet led by one of their guys, probably Mykola Azarov. But it will not make the new ruling coalition more durable.

The Verkhovna Rada has been plagued by deputies' political indiscipline for many years - that is why the constitution was changed to its present form in the first place.

Even if a new coalition is not formed in the allotted time frame and fresh pre-term parliamentary elections are called, because 4 or5 or more factions will enter parliament again, sadly, the instability will continue.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Ukraine's magic roundabout

The Tymoshenko-led cabinet will almost certainly not survive a vote of no confidence in the VR on Wednesday. The 'virtual' BYuT-led ruling coalition has fallen apart, but is by no means certain that a new coalition can be constructed in the thirty day time frame before new elections [that no-one wants] have to be declared.

NUNS, the political bloc that PoR must bring over to their side, insist that any new PM has to be one of their guys. Although Arseniy Yatseniuk is frequently mentioned as a potential candidate, it has to be remembered the biggest plank of his presidential campaign platform was "the creation of a new political elite". In Davos at the end of January he made it clear that he "will remain in opposition to Yanukovych and to Tymoshenko...I cannot work with either Yanukovych or Tymoshenko..". Although smart politicians "never say never", becoming PM without any personal power base in parliament could well be a poisoned chalice, particularly for the young and ambitious Yatseniuk. His best bet could be early elections to gain a useful foothold in the VR on which to develop his political project.

Tonight on a TV programme, Viktor Yanukovych's principal long-time close advisor and spin-doctor, now deputy head of his presidential administration, Hanna Herman, candidly declared: "[When] we recall Yushchenko's premiership - this was not the worst time for Ukraine. It seems to me he would be a good premier, if he agreed on this position."

Yushchenko will bide his time and choose his moment, but for him the PM's job could be an opportunity to resuscitate a discredited political career. And how often in Ukrainian politics do the country's principal figures dramatically disappear on one side the roundabout, only to emerge some time later, on the other side of the roundabout?

Update: After today's no-confidence hit received by Tymoshenko, head of NUNS political council, Vira Ulyanchenko today announced that NU would join a new coalition with PoR on the provision that any new cabinet were to be led by Viktor Yushchenko.

Ulyanchenko, long-time Yushchenko ally, "nursery maid", and the last head of his presidential secretariat, is a formidable political manipulator. She recently 'rendered assistance' to Yanukovych, enabling him to acquire large tracts of forest and land for indulging in his boar hunting passion. No doubt Yushchenko will be expecting similar gestures of reciprocation.

p.s.I hope the accuracy of Yanik's shooting is better than his knowledge of geography.

p.p.s. See Tymoshenko's speech in the VR delivered, just before the no-confidence vote, here.