Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Polish visit presents Yanukovych with a stark choice

Twenty years ago, on 24th August 1991, the day when Ukraine proclaimed its independence, your humble blogger was in Warsaw. Poland was the first country to recognise the nascent Ukrainian state and is, even today, Ukraine's 'best friend'. But right now they are dismayed by what they see as the 'roll-back' of democracy in the country and the political persecution of Ukrainian opposition leaders, in particular.

Today president Yanukovych was visiting Polish president Komorowski on the Baltic coast in what could turn out to be a watershed meeting.

In an op-ed piece in one of Poland's leading newspapers, 'Gazeta Wyborcza', a Polish presidential advisor worries: "..whether the Ukrainian authorities are fully aware of the consequences that this [Tymoshenko] trial may have on the success of projects of key importance on the declared desire of their permanent association with the European Union."

He adds: In Warsaw, the great hope is that by the end of the six-month period of the Polish presidency, EU talks on association agreements and free trade agreements [with Ukraine] will be concluded, but developments in Kyiv could tie the hands of Poland on the issue.
Arguments of politicians and countries reluctant to draw Ukraine into the EU may gain the upper hand. If we fail to do so by the end of 2011, talks on the association may be a drag on for many months or even longer.

It seems that the authorities in Kyiv, and President Viktor Yanukovych in particular, should take into accout this eventuality. It would be fatal if they have underestimated the seriousness of the situation.

In this high-stakes game for European status for Ukraine Kyiv should not provide arguments that undermine their chances of success.

Other Polish experts also think Komorowski will be trying to convince Yanukovych to free Tymoshenko from custody, whilst Yanukovych could be asking for advice on how to best extricate himself from the mess his hubris and lust for revenge have led him into.

It's looking more and more as if red lines are being drawn - Komorowski may well have told his Ukrainian counterpart: Back-off the opposition, or you're on your own pal..if you do not, a diplomatic train-wreck for you and your ministry of foreign affairs guys may well be in prospect..

Whatever Yanukovych decides, his democratic credentials have already been irretrievably damaged. This may be his last foreign trip westward for a while..

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Paranoid Yanukovych unable to fake sincerity

Today, Friday, president Yanukovych visited Donetsk to take part in the 'Day of the Miner' celebrations. He gave a speech praising their efforts, stressing the importance of coal to the country's economy, and awarded medals to distinguished workers in the industry.

The dark pall hanging over all of this, was of course the dozens of deaths in recent mining disasters at the local "Sukhodolskaya Vostochnaya", "Bazhanova," and "Krasnokutskaya" mines.
At a pre-arranged press conference the president could only find time to answer three questions from journalists : one from Rinat Akhmetov's TV company, one from Rinat Akhmetov's newspaper, and one from the First National Television channel which was clearly planted to enable Yanukovych to respond to recent comment by Russia's president Medvedev on Ukraine's possible accession into a Customs Union with its northern neighbour.

Yanukovych did not look comfortable, clenching and kneeding his fists, whilst giving his brief answers.

'Ostro' reports that security on the day was absurdly tight. In their words, "Donetsk greeted the president of Ukraine with enormous billboards and empty streets."

"An hour before the arrival of the head of state employees of the SBU and the police cleared people from 'Theatre Square'.

The President's cortege was met by several dozen of miners specially selected for this purpose, and several dozen employees of the SBU. The entire territory and the area in front of the theatre building was cordoned off by police. A brass band played...After the ceremonies had ended, when President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych left the theatre, his security immediately closed the main entrance doors behind him, not allowing any of those present to come out onto the street outside.

People, including those miners that had just congratulated, crowded into the theatre lobby, wondering when they would be allowed to leave the theatre. The waiting lasted about 10 minutes. The door was [then] opened for everyone."

[Compare with British prime minister, David Cameron, taking questions recently from members of parliament in a televised debate on wide-scale riots that took place in London and elsewhere, earlier this month:

"For two and a half hours on the Commons floor, Mr. Cameron took questions from anguished, and often angry, lawmakers. They demanded to know why, on the first nights of the rioting, their constituents had been left to cower in fear in their homes and elsewhere while police officers in riot gear stood back, armed only with nightsticks, under orders not to engage the rioters.

It was the longest inquisition of its kind that any prime minister has faced in living memory. Not even Winston Churchill, often described as the greatest Commons man in history, endured such a protracted grilling." ]

Groucho Marx once said that the key to success in life was sincerity, and added, if you can fake that you have really got it made. It was not one of Yanukovych's better days..

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Case against Lutsenko falling apart, but so what?

The twists and turns of the Tymoshenko trial are hogging the mass media pages and airwaves, whilst almost unreported, the criminal case against former minister of the interior, Yuriy Lutsenko is falling apart.

A number of 'victims' of his so-called crimes have failed to turn up in court. The current minister of internal affairs, Anatoliy Mohylyov, has allegedly forbidden several of his subordinates to appear, fearing they will sing a different tune to that which they sang for the benefit of the criminal investigators.

Three other witnesses have also changed their testimony upon cross-examination in court and no longer consider Lutsenko to be the perpetrator of crimes against their person.

According to 'Unian', Lutsenko openly declared in a statement in the courtroom that presiding judge Serhiy Vovk was being blackmailed. He said this without any challenge from the bench. "Your honour, two criminal cases have been opened against you. You and me are the same. The same dirty game is being played against you as against me. How are we to going to continue this process?"

'Unian' article concludes: "We all understand that today this does not depend upon the will of the peaceloving Vovk...[As] in [all] the political trials taking place in Ukraine today, the judges are far from making the decisions. More accurately - they decide nothing at all."

Lutsenko remains in custody after 8 months behind bars. Tymoshenko is, at time of writing, still being denied access to her own personal physician, even though she claims to be suffering from a mysterious ailment, possibly caused by ingestion of rat-poison?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

All liars

The Kremlin accuses Yushchenko of lying from the witness box today at the trial of Yulia Tymoshenko.

Yesterday minister of fuel and energy Yuriy Boyko certainly lied in the witness box when he laughably claimed he had no relationship to the setting up of 'RosUkrEnergo'. Boyko and RUE are at the heart of the totally corrupt Ukrainian/Russian gas business which has robbed the country's consumers of billions of dollars.

A portion of the loot, has, almost certainly, funded Yanukovych's and Party of Regions' election campaign costs. Much cheaper though to wipe out your political opponents by locking them up in jail.

Yuriy Shelyazhenko, in his 'U.P' blog posts a large spread from Gazprom's September 2004 in-house magazine. The article leaves no doubt that the creation of this company was part of an agreement between 'Gazprom' and Naftohaz Ukrainy' signed by Gazprom's Alexei Miller the-then Naftohaz chairman, Yuriy Boyko .

The article declares: "From January 2005 to 2028 'RosUkrEnergo' will sell gas to 'Naftohaz Ukrainy'", and claims the agreement could be called, "without exaggeration, historical"..

Tymoshenko has of course, been trying to eliminate RUE for years..

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

EU/Ukraine agreements in peril

A thoroughly damning assessment of Ukraine's legal system and its political puppetmasters by The Danish Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, entitled: "Second Preliminary Report based on the investigations and trials against former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, former acting Minister of Defence Valeriy Ivashchenko, former Minister of Interior Yurij Lutsenko and former First Deputy Minister of Justice Yevhen Korniychuk", can be read here

Today's 'Financial Times' carries a story about the proposed signing free trade and association agreements with the EU, entitled "Ukraine poses dilemma for Brussels"

The article ends with a quote from Nico Lange, head of the Ukraine office of Germany’s Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung foundation,

"What signal do you send if you include a country into this new form of co-operation when it is one of the worst worldwide in terms of business climate, corruption, has significant problems with democracy and rule of law, and is persecuting the former government?.. What signal does this send to northern Africa or Belarus?"

My guesss now is, on the balance of probabilities, EU countries will kick these agreements 'into the long grass'. Germany and France in particular, have had enough of paying the bills for more fiscally profligate countries in the Eurozone. Who needs extra burdens right now?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Yet more criticism of Yanukovych

From the new French 'Altantico' news website, [known for exclusive scoops] an op-ed piece entitled: "A strong smell of gas behind the Tymoshenko trial":

"[Yulia Tymoshenko], the former prime minister in 2009 put an end to the role of RosUkrEnergo as an intermediary in the gas sector, thus closing the valve feeding the Russian Semyon Mogilevych and the Party of Regions of President Viktor Yanukovych via Dmytro Firtash and Ivan Fursin.... The prosecutor handling the case, said on his appointment in November 2010 that his sole mission was to serve the president, and the judges have also repeatedly been praised by Viktor Yanukovych.

Europe would be wrong to take these cases lightly. Behind this case not only is the political and democratic future of a country in the immediate vicinity being played out, but also energy issues affecting European supply (Ukraine is a major transit country for Russian gas) and also important criminal issues (Semyon Mogilevich has been sought by the FBI for several years).

Diplomatic condemnations cannot be sufficient, we must now move to sanctions."
Yanukovych clearly thinks that he can 'ride out' the 'shit-storm' directed at him from western politicians and the western media, but it is difficult how. There surely will be a price to pay.

How ironic that, as 'Yulia Mostova of 'Dzerkalo Tyzhnya' in a brilliant article points out, opinion polls reveal that although Yanukovych is still running ahead of Tymoshenko [by 56% against 44%], against any other candidate, in a straight head-to-head run-off, Yanukovych would lose by a similar margin.

In other words, by eliminating Tymoshenko from any contest he may well be sealing his own fate...

Thursday, August 11, 2011

F.A.Z blasts Ukrainian authorities

One of Germany's premier newspapers, 'Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung' today carries an op-ed piece by Konrad Schuller calling for the EU to impose sanctions against individual Ukrainian government officials and to disrupt the Association Agreement negotiations..

"One thing is clear: the signing of an agreement celebrated with champagne and salmon canap├ęs, while one Ukrainian opposition politician after another disappears behind prison walls, would be a sad comedy."

The 'Economist' calls president Yanukovych: "thuggish, vengeful and guided by the codes of the underworld."

The detention of Tymosenko last week has raised criticism of Ukraine's leader to a new level.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Prejudicial statement from PoR morons

This from a highly prejudicial statement [in goofy English], on the Party of Regions' website:

"Tymoshenko is being judged because in 2009 she forged the documents of national importance - the directives of the Cabinet of Ministers on negotiations with the Russian party and signing the contract on gas supply and transit of gas from the Russian Federation. In these directives the government, accountable to people, determines: what gas price Ukraine can agree, what price on gas transit through its territory should be, what volumes of gas Ukraine is planning to consume and so on.

When making a faked document ex-prime minister knew that the Ukrainian government had refused to support the content of written by her directives, because the conditions of gas supply and transit, determined there, were extremely disadvantageous and discriminatory for Ukraine.

However, according to Tymoshenko’s instructions, the forged document titled "Directives", was produced, signed personally by her and a seal of the Cabinet of Ministers was attached.

Using this fake, Tymoshenko made the leaders of "Naftogaz Ukraine" to sign the agreement, providing dramatic, unjustified increase in gas prices since 2010 and onerous conditions, depriving Ukraine for 10 years of the possibility to cancel the agreement."

Prejudicial or what? Where is the big word "allegedly"?

A reminder to whoever wrote the above: the court decides what was fake what was not - not PoR propagandists.

No wonder western observers call the Tymoshenko trial a farce, a bad joke, a pantomime, etc. etc..

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Tymoshenko's defensive errors

Sober analysis of Yulia Tymoshenko's trial is provided by Tetyana Montyan in her latest 'U.P' blog.

She considers Tymoshenko, from the very beginning did not seek the assistance the most professional defence councillors available, with whom she would have to be absolutely open and honest, but used inexperienced lawyers to merely act as pawns and be replaced as the trial progressed, in order to drag out proceedings.

Montyan says the reason for Tymoshenko's mistrust of lawyers is the betrayal of former her legal advisor, Andriy Portnov, whom she took to Moscow to arrange the allegedly dodgy gas deal in 2009. It was he who provided flimsy legal cover for the deal, part of which was the approproriation of billions of dollars worth of gas that may or may not have legally belonged to RosUkrEnergo, possibly in exchange for the promise of a top job for Portnov if Tymoshenko became president. [How often does betrayal figure in Ukrainian politics and history?]

Nevertheless, Montyan suggests that Portnov, a competent lawyer, would almost certainly have pointed out to Tymoshenko the possible dangers of her actions at that time.

But afterwards he falls out with Tymoshenko and switches sides, going to Regiony to 'spill the beans'. It is now Portnov who, behind the scenes, is organising the entire case against Tymoshenko.

Motyan considers Tymoshenko's behaviour in court to be self-destructive, virtually wiping out any chance of benign end, [dare I say soft landing?] to the trial. A competent defence adviser would have presented her case, particularly to the outside world, much better, and would have had a firm grasp of her opponents' position, tactics and strategy, having detailed knowledge from Tymoshenko of what Portnov knows. A competent defence adviser would have been using all inside channels available to come some kind of deal with her PoR opponents, [plea-bargaining or similar I suppose], if at all possible, in order to save face for both sides. Working toward a compromise should never be abandoned..[And Tymoshenko has done this before with PoR, as everyone knows..]

"So, she made a strategic mistake: relying on illusory political perspectives on one hand, and having lost confidence in lawyers on the other, she decided not to defend her flanks with all her might, not to oppose her enemies with the most appropriate weaponry available, not to seek the best way out of this situation - but just act the fool and turn the court proceedings into comic farce.."

Even though her enemies have staged this trial with the intention of neutralising and destroying Tymoshenko as the leader of the opposition, and Ukraine's judicial system has been exposed as a joke, LEvko fears there is some truth in what Montyan says.

Azarov came to gloat

It was inevitable that when PM Mykola Azarov was surprisingly called as a witness for the prosecution on Friday verbal mudslinging would ensue between him and Yulia Tymoshenko, who was conducting her own defence. These two have been calling one another thieves and corruptioneers in public for years.

Why was he called? He was not a member of the Tymoshenko cabinet at the time she allegedly committed the crimes of which she is accused, and he is not an authority on legal aspects of chains of command, government procedure, or areas of responsibility of Ukraine's elected officials.

My hunch is he invited himself into the courtroom for the basest of reasons: in order to humiliate: 'bad-mouth', and gloat over Tymoshenko in her predicament. He even brought his own cameramen to record the event, even though he cannot have been unaware video-recording of trial proceedings had been banned by the judge more than two weeks ago. [Indignant journalists eventually forced Azarov's camera team to leave the courtroom.]

Another of Tymoshenko's most hated foes, Minister for Energy Yuriy Boyko, was lurking in the court corridors, no doubt waiting to 'give her a good kicking' from the witness box too. As this excellent piece from 'Kyiv Post' points out, the role of cash-siphon RosUkrEnergo is at the heart of this trial so it was no coincidence that the day after RUE reared it ugly head again in the courtroom, when Yuriy Yekhanurov gave evidence, Tymoshenko was arrested. She has, of course been striving to rid the country of the parasitic RUE for many years.

The prosecutors have called a total of 38 witnesses. The defence, to date, have only been permitted to call 2, even though they requested 30 present themselves in the court. These were to include members of Tymoshenko's cabinet of ministers, state gas company NaftoHaz Ukrainy and UkrTransHaz officials, as well as representatives from NaftoHaz's auditors, the multinational Ernst and Young.

Tymoshenko's legal councillors throughout the trial have been given risibly little time to prepare their case. There have been days when the case proceeded even though neither defendant nor her council were present.

By western standards the trial has every appearance of a total 'stitch-up' even though everyone knew scrutiny would be intense, hence the deluge of criticism from abroad. Western observers expected court procedures and protocol to be impeccably adhered so that any verdict could be presented as fair and 'above board'. What they got was 'bun-fight'.

The trial recommences tomorrow and still has quite a few days to run. Interest will be even higher than before.

The criticism by Ukraine's prospective European partners has now been so vociferous and wide-ranging that if Tymoshenko continues to be imprisoned a price will eventually have to be paid.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Why was Tymoshenko locked up today?

So Yulia Tymshenko has been arrested - generating quite a reaction...

After weeks of 'dissing' the court, why now?

Yesterday, Yuriy Yekhanurov, who replaced Tymoshenko as PM after she was sacked by Yushchenko in 2005, was cross-examined by her for several hours in court.

Today the current PM, Mykola Azarov was getting the same treatment. Despite her best efforts, Tymoshenko was continuously prevented from quizzing these two characters about infamous gas intermediary RosUkrEnergo.

In January 2006 Yekhanurov signed a murky gas deal with Gazprom involving RUE which, at the time, even foremost experts in the field could not untangle and interpret. In April last year Azarov did a shady deal with Putin on gas - most controversially linking the price of gas to the lease on the Sevastopol naval base used by the Russian Black Sea Fleet.

Minister of Energy, Yuriy Boyko, a former head of NaftoHaz Ukrainy closely associated with the introduction of RUE into the Russian/Ukrainian gas business, was also about to be called as a witness today. He was pelted by Tymoshenko supporters outside the courthouse.

My guess is these people, Tymoshenko's biggest political opponents, had had enough of the spotlight being thrown on RUE. Hence the court's decision to 'pay back' Tymoshenko and imprison her.

Because she is accused of signing a gas contract in 2009 that was allegedly financially harmful to Ukraine's interests, it was surely not unreasonable for her to bring up the historical background to this deal in the courtroom, to shed some light on why she struck the deal she did.

She is also accused of abuse of power linked to the signing of these 2009 gas contracts, but, most unfairly, her requests for impartial experts in constitutional and government law, and NaftoHaz's external auditors familiar with the company's finances to be called as witnesses for the defence, were denied yesterday. However her biggest political opponents, who inevitably would give biassed evidence, were called. Now she has to pay the price..

'Front Zmin' leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk, until now lukewarm in his support of Tymoshenko, was swift and forthright in his condemnation of today's arrest. "A rubicon has been crossed, democracy has been terminated..." he says.

Today was certainly a watershed...the attitude of European politicians to Ukraine's current authorities will now radically, and probably irreversibly, change..

p.s. Tymoshenko has found a powerful ally - World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Vitaliy Klichko who has interrupted his training and returned to Kyiv at this moment of crisis. He claims Ukraine's democratic gains since independence 20 years ago are at risk..

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Will instinct of self-preservation amongst Ukraine's ruling elite now kick in?

Oleksiy Krasnopyorov has posted an interesting blog about Ukraine's ruling elites and the effect Yulia Tymoshenko's trial is having on them.

This elite has always been a rather amorphous bunch; many have switched from political party to political party, [and even back again] whenever this suits their business and personal interests. They may 'kick lumps' out of one another on political talk shows or in parliament, but can be seen together later in convivial conversation at swanky restaurants and parties. Their business interests may sometimes clash, and sometimes coincide. They drive the same expensive automobiles and wear the same elite brand clothes. In the past, unwritten rules of mutual conduct have generally been observed.

With the start of legal precedings against Tymoshenko matters have changed.

Krasnopyorov notes that the evidence provided by witnesses for the prosecution during the trial, to date has, curiously, been neutral or perhaps even supportive of Tymoshenko's case, [in contrast to their previous testimony to prosecutors]. He immediately discounts honourable or noble motives and suggest another possible reason.

He says that the instinct of self-preservation amongst the "political class' has come to the fore. They are beginning to realise that if Tymoshenko, the leading opponent of the current president and administration is imprisoned, no-one can be absolutely sure the same fate does not await them in the future. If Tymoshenko, one of the biggest beasts in the jungle, can be brought down, it would be child's playto 'take out' anyone else in the months and years to come.

If Tymoshenko is imprisoned the entire political class will become compliant and fearful, demotivated from voicing any alternatives to policies proposed by the ruling powers.

The situation right now shows fear already exists and is widespread, so the current regime has already partially achieved its aim, claims Krasnopyorov.

We can only speculate which emotion is the stronger: banal fear, or the instinct of self-preservation. The political-legal realities of the circumstances in which we will live in the near future depend on this, he concludes.