Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Iron Yulia

Several days ago the Russian NTV television channel, allegedly controlled by the Kremlin, premiered a biographic documentary film entitled "Iron Yulia".

Perhaps unexpectedly, it portrayed its subject, Yulia Tymoshenko, in a favourable light. There was little that could be negatively perceived by a Russian, or by a wider audience. Few details of her shady UESU gas trading activities, or even her crucial role in the Orange Revolution where detailed.

One Ukrainian political analyst says the Kremlin is indicating Russia has not forgotten about Yulia Tymoshenko and consider her an alternative to Viktor Yanukovych, particulary as those who imprisoned her now believe she has ceased to be an alternative. It is no accident the film appeared during a period of cooling relations between the president's administration and the Kremlin, when there is little common ground on the issue of gas and Ukraine's gas transportation system.

The film could even be a turning point in Tymoshenko's fortunes, though Yanukovych is doing his utmost to keep his arch-enemy under his boot.

But as with the other 'Iron Lady' - the fascination endures... Like it or not, we live in an era of political celebrity..and her incarceration merely adds to the myth..

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Lutsenko court parody continues

If students of law want to know what a politically motivated show trial looks like they need not look into history books. All they have to do is observe what is going on in Kyiv's Pechersky District Court where former Ukrainian Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko is being tried..

Yesterday [Tuesday] the presiding judge made no insistence that witnesses attend the court in person to provide testimony that could be be subjected to scrutiny. Instead, he merely "read out more than 20 out of nearly 40 protocols of the interrogation of witnesses who gave evidence during pre-trial investigation at the Prosecutor General's Office and those who said that they could not attend court sessions for various reasons and circumstances."

Many, perhaps most of the 80 or more witnesses that have already given evidence in the courtroom either revoked testimonies they provided to prosecutors, or complained they were coerced into giving misleading evidence.

The entire case has become a parody of legal procedure. The judge is now deliberately bulldozing the trial in order to reach a verdict and sentencing before Lutsenko's case is heard in the European Court of Human Rights in a few weeks time.

[Read more here]

And also from 'ForeignNotes' here and here about how the judge is being blackmailed to give the 'correct' verdict.

p.s. Video from TVi's 'Znak Oklyku' on the Ukrainian Prosecutors' banal and blatant misuse of its powers to coerce witnesses, grooming of witnesses, and invention of false evidence to enable Lutsenko's closest circle to be hounded here

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Why would anyone walk away from $80 million?

Early summer last year a huge scandal emerged: the Ukrainian state company 'ChornomorNaftogaz' purchased a deep sea drilling rig for $ 400 million after what supposedly was a competitive tender process. In the event, only two intermediary companies - the New Zealand Falcona Systems Ltd, and the Cardiff UK-based Highway Investment Processing LLP submitted tenders.

According to their published accounts the source suppliers of the rig, the Norwegian SDRL-Seadrill, received almost $250 million for the rig, so the winners of the tendering process, Highway Investment Processing LLP, took a mind-numbing $ 150 million 'cut' on the deal.

[Highway Investment Processing LLP offices, incidentally lie between 'Tony's Italian and North Indian Cuisine Cafe', 'Chillies Take-Away', and 'Tattoo-U' tattoo parlour, in Cardiff, Wales.]

More here and here

'ChornomorNaftogaz' paid 80% up-front. The rig is currently in a Turkish port having its legs welded on, and the balance is to be paid after installation on site.

However, 'Ukrainska Pravda's investigation of records of the official British comanies' registrar, "Companies House" reveal that 'Highway Investment Processing LLP' is being dissolved, and "will be struck off the register....Upon dissolution, all property and rights vested in, or held in trust for hte LLP..will belong to the crown [i.e. the British Sovereign and State]".

Big questions: Why is a nameplate company which will be 20% of $400 million, i.e. $80 million richer in several months, being wound up? An why should 'ChornomorNaftogaz' pay the balance to a company that will cease to exist in less than 3 months?

Yuriy Boyko was asked about this business on Friday's 'Velyka Polityka z Yevheniem Kyselyovym' by AFP journalist Anya Tsukanova. He rather shiftily responded that transportation of the rig to site cost $15 million... for the other bits and bobs just ask Halliburton [Oilfield Services] who are responsible for its commissioning. And that's it. A Ukrainian proverb came to LEvko's mind: A thief's hat is always on fire....

The creepy Kyselyov, instead of following up the question, sensing Boyko's discomfort, muttered something about Halliburton being a huge US company once led by former secretary of defense Dick Cheney...and moved on.

Everyone knows the whole thing stinks to high heaven....sooner or later chickens will come home to roost..

p.s. If Halliburton are to be paid by 'Highway Investment Processing' for the commissioning work on the rig, they'll surely be getting worried about receiving payment, no? They will have conducted due diligence, so will be aware of the dirty little secrets...

p.p.s. 'Znak Oklyku' documentary on this topic here

Friday, January 20, 2012

Lutsenko's writhes in pain as court judge ignores his appeals [Updated]

The grotesque spectacle of former interior minister Yuriy Lutsenko's trial continues...

Today [Thursday] the court sat for an unprecedented 14 hours - until 11.30 in the evening; and is set to continue Friday at 8.05 am. During the day Lutsenko complained he was feeling ill and doubled up in severe pain. Paramedics were summoned to attend to the accused on four occasions [some reports said five] through the day and he was administered painkilling injections several times. He spent periods lying down in the courtroom cage as proceedings continued..

So many witnesses have either given evidence in support of Lutsenko or have complained of pressure from prosecutors to 'rat' on him that in any normal court the presiding judge would have dismissed the trial many months ago, or declared a mistrial.

French human fights Ambassador Francois Zimeray, who attended the trial, declared Lutsenko's treatment to be inhuman and illegal.
The judge must really be having his balls squeezed hard by puppetmasters....

[Photo source]

p.s. On Friday Lutsenko did not appear in court. His defence council said that he had returned to his cell at 2.00 am and was awoken at 4.30 am in readiness for Friday's court session...

What is the point of such vindictive and despicable treatment of to the accused? LEvko suggests: to demonstrate to Ukrainians who is now in total command.. who has absolute power...and to spread fear by providing an example of what happens to those the authorities consider a threat to their omnipotence ..

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Khoroshkovsky and RUE group tighten grip

Energy Minister Yuriy Boyko, presidential administration head Serhiy Lyovochkin, former State Security Service of Ukraine head, as-of-today Minister of Finance, Valeriy Khoroshkovsky, and RosUkrEnergo part-owner Dmytro Firtash have many times been accused by Ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and others of large-scale corruption and conflicts of interest in the natural gas trade.

"Ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, repeating accusations she made while in power, alleged on Sept. 6 [2010] that all four men are business associates in either the gas trade or in media holdings, making it a massive conflict of interest for these government officials to be involved in decisions that could transfer $5 billion worth of the state's natural gas supplies back to RosUkrEnergo, 45 percent owned by Firtash. " [Source]

And yet: "According to government figures, Ostchem, a company through which he [Firtash] has consolidated control over much of Ukraine’s chemical business, imported with Russian permission about 5 billion cubic meters of Central Asian gas in 2011. Moreover, sources close to Firtash claim it imports the gas at significantly lower prices than the blue fuel that goes through Naftogaz. These are privileges that few have and it has yet to be explained why Russia would give these favors to Firtash."[Read more]

As Interfax recently reported: "According to the Central Dispatching Department of the Fuel and Energy Complex (CDU TEK), Ukraine imported 44.7 bcm of natural gas in 2011 - Ukraine's national oil and gas company Naftogaz Ukrainy received 39.175 bcm, and independent importer Ostchem Holding, which belongs to Ukrainian businessman Dmytro Firtash, imported 5.53 bcm of Turkmen gas."

How can Ukraine possibly get a fair deal on gas when it's chief negotiators with Gazprom are involved in such a massive inside deal?

As for Khoroshkovsky, who was appointed by presidential decree - he and the RUE faction will now be working ever closer with 'the Yanukovych Family' for their further mutual self-enrichment.

The 'metallurgical wing' of PoR is being well looked after too, in case they get jealous...

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Tymoshenko being poisoned? [Updated]

I suppose that it was inevitable - sooner or later reports about the possible poisoning of former PM Yulia Tymoshenko, who is now encarcerated in a penal colony near Kharkiv, would emerge. One 'expert' toxicologist now considers she may be being poisoned with thallium [as favoured by the Russian FSB..]

It is not unreasonable to consider that something peculiar did occur on 6th January over the Orthodox Christmas period, when she apparently lost consciousness after taking medication and was quickly taken to hospital by ambulance for scans and tests. It is unlikely such a turn of events would have been preplanned by the authorities.

Tymoshenko's daughter Yevheniya is currently publicising her mother's predicament in Western Europe - and providing good copy for the media.

Until the former PM is examined by independent foreign physicians the allegations of maltreatment and denial of proper medical care, etc. etc. will continue...this will eventually dawn on Yanukovych and his spin doctors..

Many Ukrainians will take a jaundiced view of the shenanigans surrounding Tymoshenko, which may be a diversionary tactic designed to make citizens think less about their worsening economic situation, but in Europe...everyone remembers Yushchenko's face...Lytvynenko..and will think...on top of a most dubious trial?...hmmm...

Update: Just a few hours after reports of alleged poisoning of Yulia T. the Prosecutor General's office say they will permit foreign medical experts to examine Tymoshenko...However,
in Ukraine the gap between declarations and realisations is often infinite..And just as in the Yushchenko poisoning so many false trails are laid, allegations and counter-allegations made that getting to the truth is impossible.

Today that bad joke of a deputy Prosecutor General Renat Kuzmin threatened to open a criminal case against former president Yushchenko if it is found that his blood samples were falsified..

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Sooner or later people will demand their money back

This is from Alexander Lebedev's blog in 'The Guardian. [Lebedev owns several British newspapers].

Much of what he says applies to Ukraine also.

"Everybody knows what happened after the fall of the Soviet Union. A few opportunistic businessmen swooped like vultures to claim whole industries for themselves. Quickly, they made hundreds of millions by monopolising them. The Kremlin, whose long slide into autocracy shows no sign of relenting, made deals with several of them, knowing it would be easier to keep them on side than to open up Russia's economy to proper procedures, competition, and fair trade. That's the story people are familiar with. But something is beginning to change. First of all, several of these men – it's almost always men, I'm afraid – have grievances with each other which date back many years; but they have only recently called in their lawyers. So expect more disputes in the manner of Berezovsky v Abramovich soon.

Second, the sheer scale of the losses to the Russian people – in shady deals and contracts, and lost productivity, jobs, and income – is only now becoming clear. My own estimate is that over $500bn has been effectively stolen from the Russian people between 2003-2011; economists I speak to in Moscow suggest it could be more. Russia's struggling citizens have every right to reclaim these funds, and as awareness of this vast sum spreads across the country, so too will intolerance of it. When demonstrations broke out in Moscow before Christmas, it was noticeable how many of the protesters were demanding their money back from the Kremlin."

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Ukraine could do much more to renegotiate gas price with Russia

Today former PM Yulia Tymoshenko wrote a letter to Parliament from her prison cell warning that a new government would denounce any possible lease of the Ukrainian gas transportation system.

She also declared that the now infamous contract which followed the head-to-head Putin-Tymoshenko gas crisis negotiations in early 2009 included a clause whereby the price of gas could be modified without penalty.

On 22nd January 2009 'Ukrainska Pravda' published what they alleged was a leaked copy of the 10-year contract signed by former Naftohaz Ukrainy head Oleh Dubina, and Gazprom's CEO Alexey Miller.

Sure enough, paragraph 4.4 says: "If either side declares that circumstances on the market for fuel-energy products have changed significantly in relation to that which the sides substantially expected when the current contract was concluded, and the contract price indicated in paragraph 4.1 of the current contract does not reflect the level of prices on the market, then the sides [can] enter into negotiations on the review of the contract prices corresponding to the conditions of the current contract."

The contract also includes articles [paragraph 8.1 onward] on regulating disputes by arbitration, and also confidentiality clauses.

Why does the current adminstration, instead of complaining about the high price they are paying for Russian gas - supposedly much greater that that being paid by European customers, do everything possible permitted under the terms of the contract to get the price lowered?

Reason? Side-deals and huge kickbacks?...And as a bonus, Tymoshenko can take the blame and be locked away for seven years?

Monday, January 09, 2012

Gloomy assessment for 2012

In their last issue of 2011 'Dzerkalo Tyzhnya' asked 20 emminent Ukrainian journalists, political technologists, sociologists, writers, civic leaders etc. whether a change in government is possible in 2012.

Readers of the internet version could register whether they agree or disagree with any of the opinions expressed by any of the commenters.

In general the tone of the article is gloomy - the country seems to be in a state of deep malaise. Reader's assessments underscore this.

Here are a few [edited] comments:

Vitaliy Portnikov -TV journalist:
For me it is clear that post-Soviet system of governance and social division has exhausted itself - and not only in Ukraine. A [period of] global redistribution of power and a changes of elite approaching throughout the former Soviet Union. I would not like to be a prophet and say for certain that this redistribution will take place in Ukraine in 2012, but it is inevitable. And this will certainly not be just a banal regime change - the depths of the shocks experienced could easily be comparable to those of the early 90's.
2842 Agree, 149 Disagree

But journalist Mustafa Nayem considers any change is not possible at the the moment. Those who could potentially take over power are not capable of explaining why those currently in power are worse that they are. Agree 1827, Disagree 254

Nayem's TV colleague Mykola Knyazytskyi, considers a change is possible. If the country's basic democratic principles are neglected and there are no resources to fulfill the social needs of its citizens, mass protests may start any minute, and no one can predict when they could start. The Ukrainian political system was reformed by Viktor Yanukovych himself so he has taken the entire responsibility for what happens in the country onto himself. Sociological reports indicate that neither he nor his party command a majority of the electorate. Quite simply he is not liked as a leader. Dictators can retain power either by bayonets, or by the love of the people...And if there is no love, then Facebook and Twitter - are much more powerful weapons than bayonets. And an unloved and disarmed politician cannot retain power [for long periods]. Agree 2269, Disagree 84

And this, probably more sober analysis, from the writer Andriy Kurkov:
..Today, no real political rivals [ready to challenge] the party [of Regions] exist. If the nearest party to them [Tymoshenko's] "Batkivschyna", gain a majority in parliamentary elections, an interesting situation may arise when a lot of the MP's who deserted earlier to "Regiony"return. Then, together they could change the party leadership, and if necessary declare "Batkivshchyna" the reformed PoR. I, like many citizens do not see any ideological difference between these parties.

PoR has become knows as a "rough bulldozer" which clears all the best locations for construction sites for its close circle. However, it is difficult to believe that with the coming of the new political force anything would change suddenly. Ukraine remains a desert, not only in an economical but also in a political sense. There is an attitude of protest amonst the people - they are ready to vote "against". But they are more "against' that which exists than "for" what is to come. There is a catastrophic lack of ideological competition in the country...The ideology of the main parties is just money and desire to remain in power as long as possible, which means control of state and budgetary finances and control of the security forces and justice. With these you can continue to legalize the duration of the period in power.

But nothing eternal exists, and new names will be added to the list of parties of power. If these new parties are not created by politicians from other camp, they will be created by the Party of Regions itself in order to ensure a "peaceful transfer of power" to a younger generation, i.e. their children in the literal as well as figurative sense.

Ukrainians will have to wait a long time for a George Washington. Particularly as the Ukrainian political scene has been infected with another dangerous virus - a virus of corporate retaliation, which is the main reason, for example, for the imprisonment of Yuri Lutsenko. Agree 945, Disagree 238

p.s. The successful, award-winning Danish political television drama 'Borgen' has just started a run on British TV. The central character is Birgitte Nyborg, leader of the Moderate party, who comes from behind in parliamentary elections as the result of a scandal involving the incumbent prime minister. In the first episode he used a government credit card to pay for some accessories and clothes at Burberry's for his wife on a trip to London. The sum involved was 70,000 Danish Krone [about 7,000 Euro] . This was enough to bring him down.

Nyborg herself cycles to work. She puts on weight during the election campaign and some of her clothes don't fit well. On the night of the election she returns home in a taxi...
Ukrainians would consider such a plot prepostrous.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Thin-skinned Yanukovych

So, following the defacement of poster billboards depicting president Yanukovych in Lviv, written instructions have been handed out to local officials to make sure they are properly maintained, and local officials "react accordingly" in the event of their damage...

Yanukovych was roundly boo'ed and heckled when opening the new Kyiv Olympic stadium several weeks ago, and even 'chickened out' from the opening of the new Lviv stadium. When his face was displayed on big screens, he was jeered and boo'ed.

What sort of reaction does he expect to get when he shows his face during the Euro 2012 competition?

The billboard says: 'This year will open up Ukraine to Europe and the World'....and reveal Yanukovych's popularity nose-diving...he had better get used to it.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Tymoshenko overtakes Yanukovych in popularity

I've rather loosely translated an article from the Russian 'Nezavisimaya Gazeta' from a few days ago.

Tymoshenko overtakes Yanukovych in popularity -The Ukrainian president's team is losing ground even in his native Donbass

Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is for the first time ahead of Yanukovych in rankings of popular sympathy. This, according to the Razumkov Centre, was one of the main political conclusions of 2011. The second, equally important O.P. result is the extremely high level of frustration, discontent and anxiety in the community which could lead to revolutionary scenario springing up in 2012 parliamentary elections.

Since the last presidential elections in 2010, Yanukovych has been ahead of Tymoshenko in all O.P.s. This has been attributed by experts to regional characteristics: the most stable electorate supporting the head of state lives in the densely populated industrial areas of eastern Ukraine. The opposition leader is most consistently supported the western regions which are more thinly populated. But right now the picture is becoming muddled. Many residents of the Donbass region, which had expected economic improvements with the appointment of their man as president, have instead experience the hardships of economic reform. As a result thy have become disillusioned with his political force.

Sympathy for the imprisoned Tymoshenko is increasing. There may be no increase in the number who trust Tymoshenko, but the perception that she has been maltreated is harming the authorities' ratings, says one expert.

How the situation has changed is revealed by the results of a public opinion poll conducted by the Razumkov Center. If presidential elections were held now, 16.3% would vote for Tymoshenko, 13.3% for Yanukovych. Third would be Arseniy Yatseniuk - 10.7%.

Sociologists note that significantly, 10.7% of Ukrainians would vote against all candidates, 11.9% would not take part in the elections, and14.7% were undecided. They interpret these figures thus: over 37% of citizens are waiting for a new leader and are possibly even ready to participate in the revolutionary scenarios. As a footnote, according to the Razumkov Center, over 67% of Ukrainians believe that events in the country are developing in the wrong direction.

Another pre-Christmas survey, by Centre Research & Branding Group, showed that 72% of citizens considered the outgoing year was difficult. Only a third of Ukrainians will celebrate the New Year in a festive mood with hopes for better to come. Another 42% suffer from anxiety and worry about the future.

Politologist Serhiy Taran says that the parliamentary election campaign, which will, in reality begin in the Spring, could be a catalyst for turmoil. "People do not take to the streets when they realize that it is not possible to change things any time soon. But during election campaigns there exists a mood of possible changes in society." He added though, that most politically aware Ukrainians do not not see enough leaders worthy of trust.

Director of the 'Penta' Center for Applied Policy Research, Volodymyr Fesenko says that the year-end rating of the party in power has declined, and this has slightly improved the situation for the opposition. But what is significant is the steep increase in the level of social tension.

At the same time Fesenko doubts that in the absence of new leaders will cause the situation to escalate to revolutionary events. Experts point out a paradox: Yanukovych's team, by trying to neutralize their main political rival are doing everything to increase Tymoshenko's rating. The authorities, although they are most fearful of national disturbances, are themselves provoking the growth of such sentiments in society.

LEvko's view is that you have to be pretty dumb to lock away your biggest political opponent when there is a realistic possibility her political force and its allies could secure a majority in parliamentary elections in less than a year's time. This should be most obvious bearing in mind how close Tymoshenko ran Yanukovych in the last presidential elections and how great a portion of the electorate would never vote for Yanukovych or his allies.

The current administration are lucky that Arseniy Yatsenyuk and other opposition leaders are men of moderation...for now. But the chance of grasping power, and events that inevitably happen, change men...

Even normally level-headed commentators, eg. in 'Kommersant' are predicting likely increases in acts of disobedience and protest this year.