Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tymoshenko acquittal unlikely despite weak case

Leviy Bereg' Chief editor Sonya Koshkina writes about the "idiotic situation" into which the presidential administration has blundered by proceeding with the gas case against Yulia Tymoshenko, in a recent 'L.B.' article.

She describes four possible outcomes: full acquittal, a suspended sentence which would prevent Tymoshenko from standing for public office, a "light custodial sentence", or a full 7 to 10 year 'stretch'.

Full acquittal is most unlikely - she give the following reasons:

  • The stupidity of the authorities in pursuing Tymoshenko would be fully exposed.

  • Tymoshenko would again be a focus around which all 'anti-PoR' politicians could rally.

  • Weakness of the authorities would be exposed to the electorate - reducing even further Yanukovych's fading popularity ratings.

  • Weakness of the authorities would be revealed to other elites in the regions, and to members of the power structures, security services, police etc.

  • The system of manual control of the court system by the authorities would be destroyed.
The second, a suspended sentence scenario, was thought to be the most likely until recently because such a result would neutralise Tymoshenko. But neutralisation is not liquidation, says Koshkina.

Tymoshenko's removal from the field of battle is the only way PoR's path would be clear to completely dominate Ukrainian politics [and probably turn Ukraine into yet another semi-authoritarian, 'managed democracy', post-Soviet state]. But any custodial sentence has a major drawback - it could well lead to dramatic economic consequences because of the chill in relations with the EU and the rest of the western world. These would hit all of Ukraine's citizens, rich and poor, and PoR are, if nothing else, a party of big business.

Meanwhile 'Front for Change' party leader Arseniy Yatseniuk, speaking to Kanal 5 TV recently, reckons the case against Yulia Tymoshenko is falling apart. He forecasts prosecutors "will be able, at most, to accuse Tymoshenko of negligence.... bring in a suspended sentence and [she will be granted] unconditional amnesty on Independence Day [with the possibility for Tymoshenko to run for parliament in the 2012 elections]". Like everyone else, he takes it as read that Tymoshenko will be found guilty as charged. Perhaps by suggesting such a 'get out of jail free' scheme he is trying to help Yanukovych ameliorate in some small way the damage that would be caused by full acquittal.

However, numerous blatant [deliberate?] procedural transgressions by the trial judge, mean inevitable appeals against a guilty verdict will be submitted to a higher court. Tymoshenko has not been permitted any defence attorney for several days now - astonishing in a case that could result in a 10 year jail sentence. And there are other cases pending against Tymoshenko which could be pulled out of the hat at any time ...

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tymoshenko Case and the Rule of Law in Ukraine - warnings...

In this Centre for European Policy Studies commentary, Michael Emerson surveys recent developments in the case against Yulia Tymoshenko in Ukraine and their implications for the country’s relations with the EU.

"The [Tymoshenko] case will be followed with great attention, and notably in the European Parliament which will have in due course to ratify the proposed Association Agreement. The Parliament is capable legally of stopping the Agreement from entering into force, if the criticisms of the case mount in volume and credibility. Escalation of the controversy has not so far reached the point of this becoming a prospect: best make sure that it does not.'

Other warnings will appear soon, like this one from a former US ambassador to Ukraine:

"..the president of Ukraine should take heed of these warnings [about the disregarding of principles of democracy], or relations between Ukraine and the West could collapse, as could his expectations of entry into the EU, and Yanukovych could be left as a lone player on the world arena."

p.s. Apologists for Yanukovych who predict 'a soft landing' in the Tymoshenko case' fail to understand how autocrats operate.

A command is given - 'Nail Tymoshenko by the end of August!'

Numbskull prosecutors who worked with Yanukovych during the 'wild east' days of the early '90's, click their heels, "Yes sir!' No-one dare suggest there might not be a case to answer..

They scratch around and eventually manage to cobble together a ramshackle case. Their guys are in they can do anything they want... their man is in complete control...what can go wrong? Critically they fail to notice that no-one can explain, and the man-in-the-street cannot understand, what crimes Tymoshenko is actually being accused of.

The wheels of the big machine start to turn..

Maybe because others know better than to accept, the trial is dropped into the lap of an incompetent novice judge. He knows he will be the fall guy if things go wrong, so he has no choice..bulldoze the trial through, no matter what, and deliver a 'guilty' verdict whatever evidence is offered...even if Tymoshenko were to be charged with stealing presents from Santa Claus's grotto in Lapland.

Senior members of Ukrainian bar association are baffled by the conduct of the hapless rookie judge and his "unprecedented"rulings in this trial.

Meanwhile Tymoshenko has been given a wonderful platform from which to deliver withering scorn and venom onto her foes.

Now, particularly after the fiasco of the last few weeks in the Pechersk courthouse, any diversion from Yanukovych's plan will be a massive victory for Tymoshenko, and a humiliation for the president. But if she is locked up, or even given a suspended sentence, the price to be paid on the international front could be huge too..another humiliation for the president. The former US ambassador is already saying Yanukovych is no longer welcome in Washington. How long before they say the same in Europe?

There can be no soft tied result.. Yanukovych, like all autocrats who place their egos ahead of national interests, will be discredited...and worst of all, the country will lose out..

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Portnikov's dire prediction

I'm loosely translating a most gloomy 'end of term' report by the respected independent political journalist Vitaliy Portnikov, published recently in 'Leviy Bereg'.

Portnikov is well known as a regular, popular commentator on 'Shuster Live' and other television programmes. He is a 'Radio Svoboda' presenter, as well as being a prolific writer for Ukrainian and other language newspapers.

This is not a crisis. This is a collapse.

As the summer holiday season gets under way, PM Mykola Azarov is scaring his ministers and fellow countrymen with the world economic crisis and the potentially dangerous turns of events that will soon take place in the United States and European Union.

Translating his comments into everyday language indicates that Azarov and Co. intend to explain away Ukraine's own approaching economic problems by directing the blame elsewhere. But this time the crisis will primarily be Ukrainian, for the following reasons:

1. An inability and determined unwillingness by the incumbent President to discharge his duties properly. Viktor Yanukovych is focused solely on setting himself and his family up in the newly-conquered country, with 'Mezhiryas', helicopters and other bagatelle. He behaves like a typical African President from the 1960's and the 1970's, not having time for affairs of state and being more concerned with hunting lodges and diamond-studded toilets.

2. Incompetence of the Government and its inability to rise to the challenges of new times. The Government is staffed by 'old-school' officials such as Azarov, or contemporary oligarchs, busy lobbying their own interests and businesses. This symbiosis is practically paralysing the work of the executive branch and increases the costs, to crazy levels, of even reasonably intentioned projects, .

3. Total corruption amongst the authorities. If the modest official Vasyl Volga, takes a half-million dollar bribe, then what do the others take? I don't want to even think about this - but corruption has completely paralysed economic opportunities for small and middle-rank businesses and even put a question-mark against the survival of the country's population itself.

4. The commodity-linked nature of the budget-forming sectors of the economy make Ukraine almost totally dependent on the global situation, and this is deteriorating because of unfavourable trends in the economies of the West.

5. Deterioration of relations with the West because of authoritarian trends in internal politics, primarily the case against Tymoshenko. In such a situation, the country's borrowing is at risk, and the government has no money of its own.

6. Deterioration of relations with Russia because of the reluctance of Yanukovych to give up assets to Putin and to the Russian oligarchs. In such situation, new agreements on gas price cannot be counted on, again hitting the economy.

7. Degradation of the power structures. The prosecutor's office and the courts are used as tools to solve political problems and provide cover for business asset 'carve-ups'. The state security service [SBU] has become a holding company under the control of Valeriy Khoroshkovsky. The army in this country is an army of beggars.

8. Complete disinterest of state officials to rectify the situation. Yanukovych is occupied with the construction of helicopter pads [at his residences near Kyiv and in Crimea etc.], his nearest circle compromise him in the West and in Moscow in order to take his place, while the the middle circle compromise the inner circle in Yanukovch's eyes in order to take place of the inner circle. With the increasing crisis all these 'worms in the can' will start to shoot and jail one other. The detention of the Vasyl Volga is just the start.

9. Lack of coordination between the government and the National Bank of Ukraine, and the desire of each of these parties to consider only corporate, and not public interests. A similar situation was observed during Yushchenko's period in office, but with a small diffence. Yushchenko was a banker and least understood what was happening around him.

10. Disoriention amongst the general population, disillusioned with the authorities, but not seeing any alternatives to what is happening, making it impossible for serious reforms to take place.

This is not even a crisis. This is a collapse.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Freudian slip by the ambassador?

Yesterday, the ambassador of Ukraine to the UK, Volodymyr Khandogiy, had a letter published in the "Financial Times" entitled 'Government of Ukraine respects judicial process'. He takes issue with an editorial published in the same paper several days earlier entitled 'Ukraine has its Yukos moment'. [See previous blog]

Khandogiy writes: "Mr Khodorkovsky..was arrested by masked commandos, jailed and then "caged" during his trial [in Russia]. There is no comparison whatsoever between Yukos and the open process taking place in Ukraine."

Former Ukrainian PM Yulia Tymoshenko's Minister of Internal Affairs, Yuriy Lutsenko, was arrested on December 26th last year by masked commandos, just like Mr Khodorkovsky, and is still under arrest. He has been charged with trivial, if not to say preposterous charges, e.g. allegedly overspending on flowers in preparation the 2009 Militsia Day festivities, and overpaying his driver. During his trial which is currently in progress, Lutsenko is always "caged" - just like Mr Kodorkovsky.

An April 28 report by The Danish Helsinki Committee on Human Rights cited numerous human rights violations, and a large number of EU observers and politicians have expressed concern recently - just as in the Khodorkovsky case.

[Read more here and here

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Response to 'FT' editorial on Ukraine

Today, Amanda Paul, of the European Policy Centre, Brussels, has responded to yesterday's 'FT' editorial [posted in previous blog]. in a letter to the editor.

Ms. Paul, who has connections to Party of Regions, speculatively claims: "certain politicians and political groups in the EU, those that are either close to the Tymoshenko bloc, or who reject the idea of Ukraine one day receiving a membership perspective, are using the case to sabotage Ukraine’s efforts to further integrate into the EU.."

She does not provide any details. I suggest these assertions are mere conjecture.

She adds: "Mr Yanukovich has done himself no favours by pursuing Ms Tymoshenko so fiercely.." inadvertently adding credibility to the allegation that it is the president himself who is instigating the assault on his greatest political rival.

She concludes with the glib, often-heard declaration that the signing of a free trade agreement would reduce corruption and improve the rule of law and democracy in Ukraine...

Surely the onus is on the current Ukrainian authorities to demonstrate they are making progress in reducing corruption and improving the rule of law and democracy, before being admitted into the club...

Is this not reasonable?

The EU will not fix Ukraine's problems...right now they have plenty of their own...

'FT' says EU should suspend talks with Ukraine

This from the 'Financial Times':

Ukraine has its Yukos moment

Ukraine’s president Viktor Yanukovich has justifiably been accused of setting up a “Putin lite” system since his election 18 months ago. Power has been concentrated in his hands, media criticism stifled. Extending the analogy, he has now found his Yukos case.

The accused in Kiev is not, like Russia’s Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a billionaire oligarch. She is Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister and Orange revolution co-leader. As in Russia, few in Ukrainian business and politics are whiter than white; shades of grey abound. So the legal assault on Ms Tymoshenko, as with Mr Khodorkovsky, looks like selective justice and a politically-motivated attempt to neutralise an opponent.

Mr Yanukovich’s camp insists that the action is part of a broader corruption clampdown, probing 400 as yet unnamed current officials. Yet nearly all of the high-ranking figures charged to date are Tymoshenko associates.

Moreover, while she faces proliferating investigations, the charge on which Ms Tymoshenko is on trial – carrying a potential 10-year sentence – is highly questionable. She is accused of exceeding her authority in agreeing a 2009 gas deal with Russia’s Vladimir Putin at an excessively high price.

This raises questions over whether policy steps, particularly during a crisis, should be subject to criminal charges. The European Union welcomed the deal in question as it restored Russian gas flows to Ukraine and further west after a shut-off, and removed an opaque intermediary from the Russia-Ukraine gas trade.

Faced with western criticism, Mr Yanukovich’s circle is rumoured to be seeking a face-saving solution – say, a suspended sentence, keeping Ms Tymoshenko out of jail but also out of the next elections. The international community should reject that kind of cynical manoeuvre.

For the EU, in particular, has far greater leverage over Ukraine than over Russia. It is negotiating a free trade and association agreement with Kiev. EU officials seem reluctant to link the talks with Mr Yanukovich’s democratic record for fear of pushing Kiev back into the arms of Russia, which is trying hard to restore its influence over Ukraine.

Yet Kiev has made clear it wants and needs the EU deal, calling closer European integration Ukraine’s “strategic choice”.

That gives Brussels power it should use – to suspend talks if the assault on Ms Tymoshenko continues. Trade privileges should be linked to values. And the values displayed in this case fall far short of those demanded by the EU.

LEvko says: Ironic that the 'FT' supported Yanukovych in the 2010 presidential elections...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Revenge of the oligarchs

A recent detailed article in the prestigious 'Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung' entitled "Revenge of the oligarchs" describes how two of the top three leading lights of the Orange Revolution, Yulia Tymoshenko and Yuriy Lutsenko, are now subjects of political repression. [The third, Viktor Yushchenko sold his soul years ago.]

Lutsenko, who has been in jail for over half a year, is paying a particularly high price for 'crossing' two of Ukraine's biggest oligarchs when he was minister of the interior.

According to Konrad Schuller, the author of the the article, the current leadership of Ukraine wants to intimidate the opposition in the country and create a climate of fear.

Schuller writes that shortly after the Orange Revolution, oligarchs who came to dominate the Ukrainian economy following battles over the redistribution of property and assets in the 1990's, frequently with the help of guns and explosives, were terrified that they would be brought to justice for their alleged criminal behaviour. One of them, the current Deputy Prime Minister, Boris Kolesnikov, spent several months behind bars, and Ukraine's richest man, Rinat Akhmetov, one of the president's main sponsors, was forced to watch as armoured vehicles enter the grounds of his residence while police searched the premises.

Without doubt, articles such as this one and this one in western media, and the ever more strident concern expressed by leading European and North American politicians about the criminal cases against Tymoshenko and Lutsenko are causing significant harm to Ukraine's image; but by naming the two oligarchs, the FAZ article could potentially harm their individual businesses too.

It would be reasonable to surmise it is the 'gas people' in Yanukovych's circle that are driving the prosecution cases against Tymoshenko rather that the 'metallurgist' faction; but it could be the latter who could suffer most if free trade agreements are delayed/cancelled, or foreign direct investments curtailed.

Last Friday the German ambassador Dr. Hans-J├╝rgen Heimsoeth attended the 'Alice in Wonderland' pre-trial hearing of the case against Yulia Tymoshenko in person. He listened in bafflement as the judge and defendant argued for over an hour as to whether Tymoshenko should stand when addressing the court, as demanded by the young judge. Eventually Tymoshenko was thrown out of the courtroom for refusing to do so.

Yanukovych and his team must have weighted up the benefits and possible damage that would be caused when they made the decision to embark on these criminal cases against Tymoshenko and Lutsenko, but once started there is no turning back..and rifts inside the ruling party could be widening too. Maybe it seemed a good idea at the time, but most likely they were just following the gangsters' iron rule: never give your enemies a second chance...

p.s. French newspapers are asking questions about Yanukovych's palatial Mezhyhirya residence with its 70 vehicle garage, 350,000 Euro bathroom, helicopter hangar, etc. etc.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Ukrainians consider trials against opposition leaders unjust

Last Friday's 'Shuster Live' programme was particularly bad-tempered - opposition parliamentary deputies eventually walked out in protest because of constant interruptions and harassment by Party of Regions' spokesmen.

Despite the PoR attack-dogs' vociferous protests, and their attempts to 'talk-down' former president Leonid Kravchuk, the latter, with the support of a visibly-annoyed Shuster, managed to conduct a straw poll among the supposedly representative studio audience.

Responding to the question, "Is that which is taking place in the Pechersk courthouse [where former PM Yulia Tymoshenko and former minister of Internal Affairs, Yuriy Lutsenko are being tried] justice?" 84% of the studio audience said 'No', 16% said 'Yes'.

Responding to the question, "Is Tymoshenko's behaviour in the court correct?" 60% said 'No', 40% said 'Yes', i.e. a majority do not like the courtroom being turned into a zoo.

Nevertheless, as I mentioned in a previous blog, a majority of Ukrainians, as well as Western observers have probably already made up their mind and decided these criminal cases are politically motivated.

The voting results in the studio would seem to support the notion that many 'undecideds', and many Yanukovych supporters, also perceive these criminal cases as being politically motivated.

My guess is Ukrainians are getting rather scared that too much power is being accumulated by the current Yanukovych-led power 'vertikal'.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Breathaking arrogance of Yanukovych and PoR deputies

Today, [Friday] laws on pension reforms which will directly affect the lives of every Ukrainian citizen, were passed in parliament. Now every Ukrainian will have to work several years longer before achieving retirement.

248 deputies voted in support of the motion even though it seems only 143 deputies were actually registered to vote in the parliament building.

Multiple voting by deputies is a blantant contravention of the country's Constitution, but takes place with numbing regularity.

Today the majority of deputies were not even bothered to turn up to work for a few hours to discuss such a vital issue, probably because it was the last day of the session before the summer recess. Their decision means Ukrainians now have to work many hundreds of days longer. I guess many of the missing deputies were just too busy packing their suitcases and checking their flight tickets, or maybe had flown out already.

Also today, President Yanukovych, who is 'Guarantor of the Constitution', was asked at a press conference why his younger, parliamentary deputy son, Viktor, had voted in the past in parliament for other deputies in their absence, thus contravening to the Constitution.

His reply? - "When children are picked on - this is something else. I assure you I am not ashamed of my children, my family....When children are dragged into this dirt into which you are trying to drag my children, my family. You could pick on my grandchildren, the oldest is 11 years old - come on, let's go after them too."

[Video of Yanuk jr. voting for four deputies here]

LEvko says: What toe-rags these people are - bloated and drunk with power...there can be no better example of the disregard they have to those they are supposed to serve...half of Ukrainian men will now will probably die before they retire, at the new retirement age of 63. [Male life expectancy in Ukraine is just under 63...]

Reminder: Yanukovych's nickname at the time he was serving his two prison sentences in a young offenders' prison was 'kham' - means boor or lout. I can see why..

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Judge in Lutsenko case compromised

Serious doubts have been cast on the impartiality of judge Serhiy Vovk, who is presiding over the trial of former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko.

Documents have been published revealing a criminal case had been opened against Vovk in 2007 concerning the illegal appropriation of land belonging to 'UkrProfOzdorovnutsya'. The judge had allegedly intentionally altered the designation of this land, but in 2009, a Kyiv Appeal Court annulled Vovk's rulings in these matters.

Yesterday, in court, Lytsenko demanded Vovk stand-down because he could not be considered impartial, but Vovk refused to go.

Lutsenko added that the criminal case against Vovk was initiated after an audit by the Ministry of Internal Affairs audit which took place at a time when he himself headed the ministry, in other words Vovk could use the trial to settle old scores and 'get even'.

Lutsenko claimed he informed the Prosecutor's Office during the investigation of his own case that Vovk was 'dirty', but was told that no case against the judge existed.

The press service of the Prosecutor General's Office have now officially denied the existence of any criminal case against Vovk. "We have to report that a decision by a college of judges of the Chamber of Criminal Cases of the Supreme Court on February 23, 2010 upheld the decision of the district court of Kyiv Holosiyivski court two years ago (16 July 2009) to rule as unlawful the decision to institute criminal proceedings against Serhiy Vovk ".

Lutsenko claimed the case against Vovk could be reopened in the event the court "makes the wrong decision..", in other words 'vlasti' have Vovk by the 'short and curlies'..

All sound very grubby...You would think that because Lutsenko's trial is being closely scrutinised and because Ukraine's judicial system has such a terrible reputation everything possible would be done to ensure everything was as clean and above board as possible, so why not change the judge? But this trial not about justice, it's about macho posturing and revenge ..

p.s. More 'dirt' on Vovk to follow?