Archive for the 'Ukraine' Category


Yulia Tymoshenko: an iron woman in trouble

Things ain’t getting better for Batkivshchyna Party leader Yulia Tymoshenko who is facing a trial in Ukrain. The former prime minister has said she plans to ask the court for a one month extension so that defense lawyer Mykola Tytarenko can review the materials of the criminal case against her.

“Everyone understands that if a defense lawyer is given one day to read 4,000 pages, that this is a dishonest and unfair trial. Today we will insist that my lawyer be given the opportunity, as provided by law, a month to familiarize himself with this criminal case,” Yulia Tymoshenko said before the start of today’s court session, reads Tymoshenko’s website.

Yulia Tymoshenko said that this time is needed to prepare their line of defense.

“Of course there was no crime, but we have to be ready to defend ourselves against the regime and the system of political repression,” she added.

Ukrainian security service says it has opened a criminal investigation into the activities of an energy company once headed by Tymoshenko.

The new probe focuses on whether former Cabinet officials and employees of United Energy Systems of Ukraine, a firm managed by Tymoshenko in the mid 1990s, embezzled $405 million.
Tymoshenko has been charged with abuse of office in signing a deal with Moscow to buy Russian natural gas at prices investigators said were too high.

She denies the charges, and describes them as a political plot by her rival, President Viktor Yanukovych, to keep her out of upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.

The United States and the European Union have condemned the cases against Tymoshenko and a number of her top allies as selective prosecution of political opponents.


Ukraine says no to gigantic gas merger

Vladimir Putin celebrated last March the election of pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych as Ukraine president. Party time’s now over! The face of Ukraine has changed but the core problem between Ukraine and Russia remains : gas! Viktor Yanukovych just said no to Putin proposal to merge Russian giant Gazprom with its ukrainian counterpart Naftogas. It’s getting complicated!

Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych put a pin in Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin “impromptu” trial balloon to merge Russia‘s gas monopolist Gazprom and its Ukrainian counterpart Naftogaz and again burnished his pro-EU foreign policy stance, saying any merger would have to be done with concerted talks with the EU.

“If we decide to begin talks [about the merger] we should include the EU at a certain stage as the main consumer of gas and the main partner,” Yanukovych said reports The Moscow Times.

Yanukovych has been widely tarred with the accusation that he is “pro-Moscow”, however, his actions during his first months on the job suggest exactly the opposite.

However, reading too much into Yanukovych’s comments is dangerous as domestic politics also play a big part in this issue as Naftogaz is seen as a national treasure (rightly so) and the president cannot be seen to give away the company to Russia without doing lethal damage to his standing at home – especially in the east of the country.

Yanukovych made his first public comments on the merger since Putin floated the idea during meetings with Ukrainian officials last week. Moscow will certainly be disappointed as the point of the deal was to cut the EU out of any involvement in the gas transport over Ukraine’s territory.

“The most important thing for Ukrainian national interests is that its gas-transportation system is reliable,” Yanukovych said.

A subsidiary deal to the $40bn discount Russia has handed Kyiv is a badly needed project to upgrade the aging pipeline network. Kyiv has been in both Brussels and Moscow to look for help with paying for new pipes, but it has also made it clear that it would rather do the work together with both Russia and the EU rather than favouring one over the other.

The upgrade would mean an extra 200 billion cubic meters of Russian gas could be sold to Europe per year within five years, up from 120 billion cubic meters now, the president said.

The politics of the upgrade are also complicated by Russia’s plan to build a new pipeline called South Stream that would deliver gas to southern Europe and by pass Ukraine completely. However, analysts have questioned the economic viability of this project and an expansion of the Ukrainian pipeline network would he a far cheaper option and further undermine the viability of South Stream. Where the gas would come from to fill South Stream is another unresolved question hanging over the project.

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said last week that the deal would most likely take the form of an equity swap between the two firms. Gazprom may use about 5 percent of its own shares to acquire Naftogaz, Kommersant reported Tuesday, citing Peskov.

Analysts have pointed out this is unlikely as it would reduce the state’s stake in Gazprom to below 50pc – something banned in Russian law. Other analysts have suggested that if the deal goes ahead a joint venture of some sort is much more likely.

Naftogaz said Wednesday that it paid more than $419 million for April gas imports from Russia, which included a discount of $100 per 1,000 cubic meters of fuel.

Still, the deal is not a right off. Putin knew this deal was going to be hard to negotiate and even harder for Yanukovych to sell at home. But if it happens it would at a stroke end the fears over energy security for western Europe as well as giving the cash-strapped Ukraine access to more money that the gas sales generate. So it is very tempting.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov was cautiously positive in statements on Wednesday, obviously suggesting that Moscow should supply more details.

“The proposal merits attention. We’ll naturally examine it because it was made by the prime minister of a very large state, our neighbour, out of good intentions,” Azarov said.

Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller said the energy ministers of Russia and Ukraine would meet in Moscow with the management of Gazprom and Naftogaz after the May holidays (after May 10) to discuss the details of a possible merger.


Ukrainian Parliament turned into a Fight Club

For those of you who have not seen the images on TV, a great moment of Ukrainian democracy… A steamy debate with smoke grenades. No comment!


Presidential elections in Ukraine: and the winner is…. Russia

Viktor Yanukovich was elected president of Ukraine on Sunday. Great news for Russia. The two main contenders were actually good picks for Medvedev/Putin compared to former president Yuschenko. But Yanukovich election is even better with Russia, which five years after the “Orange revolution”, gets back its influence over his former ally.

The heart of Ukraine beats once again on the East… A very happy ending for Vladmir Putin!!!

Russia’s president is prepared to work with Ukraine’s newly-elected head of state, presidential press secretary Natalia Timakova said on Thursday.

“President Medvedev has voiced his position more than once. He is unprepared to work with President Yushchenko, and this position remains,” she said. “As for the new president, elected by the Ukrainians, the head of the Russian Federation is prepared to work with him.”

At the same time Timakova said it was necessary to wait for the official announcement of election results in Ukraine.

She recalled that earlier President Medvedev had sent his congratulations to Viktor Yanukovich upon his success in the presidential election.

On February 9 they had a telephone conversation and Russia’s president greeted Viktor Yanukovich “upon the end the election campaign, which was highly evaluated by international observers, and upon his success in Ukraine’s presidential election.”

According to the Central Election Commission, which has processed 100 percent of electronic protocols presented by district commissions, the leader of the Party of Regions Viktor Yanukovich collected 48.95 percent of the votes in the presidential election runoff (12,481,268 votes), and his rival, Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko, 45.47 percent (11,593,340 votes).

The official returns are to be announced no later than February 17. The new head of state is to take office within the first month following the official declaration of election returns.


Ukraine: whoever wins, it will be a victory for Russia

It’s nothing to say that Russian governement (and probably especially Vladimir Putin) is very happy about presidential elections in Ukraine. First, it means of course that they won’t have to deal anymore with pro- Western incumbent Viktor Yushchenko. But the second source of satisfaction is to see that the two contestants are much more friendly and warm toward their big Russian brother.

Russia will be the only certain winner in Ukraine’s presidential election on Jan. 17, as pro- Western incumbent Viktor Yushchenko is expected to bow out to rivals seen as more friendly toward Moscow, analysts said.

“For Russia it can be called a win-win situation, since any result is better than the current situation,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs magazine. “Whoever becomes the next president will be much less ideological and more businesslike.”

Viktor Yanukovych, backed by Russia in Ukraine’s 2004 election, is the front-runner with 33.6 percent support, followed by Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko with 19.2 percent, according to the Kiev-based Democratic Initiatives Foundation. The two are likely to face off in a second round on Feb. 7 if no candidate wins 50 percent of first-round votes.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who as president promoted Yanukovych in the last election, is abstaining from an endorsement this time as polls show support for Yushchenko, the hero of the 2004 Orange Revolution, at less than 4 percent.

Russian-Ukrainian relations deteriorated under Yushchenko, who needled Russia with a push to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and appeals to Ukrainian nationalism. The Kremlin has curbed natural-gas deliveries to Ukraine three times in five years, withheld a new ambassador to Kiev and accused Yushchenko of supplying arms to Georgia during Russia’s five-day war with its southern neighbor in August 2008.

‘Sincere Policy’

“We expect the candidate chosen by the majority of Ukrainian voters to carry out a responsible, open, respectful and sincere policy toward Russia,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said in televised remarks today.

Putin, who traveled to Ukraine to campaign for Yanukovych in 2004, has since forged a close relationship with Timoshenko, personally negotiating an end to last year’s gas cut with her. President Dmitry Medvedev, Putin’s protege, froze relations with his Ukrainian counterpart in August, blaming Yushchenko for “anti-Russian” policies.

Putin said in a live call-in show last month that he wasn’t supporting Timoshenko in the elections and reminded viewers that his United Russia party has “special relations” with Yanukovych’s Party of Regions.

“Timoshenko knows that Ukraine is turning back toward Russia and that if she does not join the pro-Russian movement, she will be crushed by it, like Yushchenko,” Stratfor, the Austin, Texas-based intelligence consultancy, said in a report today. “Russia knows that she is not a true believer in the pro-Russian cause, like Yanukovych, but that if they make it worth her while, she will support the Kremlin.”

Russia, which traces its statehood to medieval Kiev, shares close economic, linguistic and religious ties to its neighbor. Without Ukraine, Russia stops being an empire with a foothold in Europe, former U.S. national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote in his 1997 book “The Grand Chessboard.”

Gas Exports

Russia’s Black Sea fleet is based in Crimea and 80 percent of Russian gas exports to Europe go through Ukrainian territory. After Yushchenko’s election, Putin began to push Nord Stream and South Stream, pipeline projects to Europe designed to bypass Ukraine.

Still, Russia shouldn’t expect Ukraine’s next president to be a pushover as gas contracts and the future of the Black Sea fleet will continue to be contentious issues, according to Lukyanov.

“Anybody will be more flexible and not provoke Moscow as much as Yushchenko,” Lukyanov said. “But even Yanukovych won’t turn out to be a puppet meeting Russia’s every demand.”


Putin sets Russian opinion for a new gas conflict with Ukraine

Prime Minister, and yet Russia’s real boss for many, has been quite agressive these dayss toward Ukraine and its pro-West president Viktor Yushchenko.

Putin said journalists last week that he was anticipating new tensions with Kiev on the gas issue because President Yushchenko was unwilling to pay gas payments and was blocking due payments.

Vladimir Putin who is trying very hard these days to appear as a humble Prime Minister, said journalists he contacted Ukrainian PM Yulia Tymoshenko to discuss the issue and that Ms Tymoshenko informed him that Yushchenko was blocking the payments.

It’s twice clever from Putin to have acted that way. It first makes a (little) more credible the fiction that he is not president anymore and that he respects Russian etiquette. That’s for PR and to please US diplomats… But the most clever of all is to push the button which hurts Ukraine. Not only gas (it’s been known for a while), but less and less silent dissensions between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko.

Political situation in Ukraine is indeed quite tense and it is not a secret anymore that the president and his PM, who once were the closest allies (they were the two natural leaders of the Orange revolution) would love to get rid of each other.

Yushchenko would love to have a new, a more flexible and less ambitious PM… Tymoshenko would love to see her boss getting retired and become the next president.

Putin perfectly knows these facts and apparently and tactically chose his side. He was kind enough to let the world know that despite his talks with Tymoshenko, Yushchenko was blocking the whole process.

As a result of this irresponsible move, Ukraine might not get any gas this winter. Putin’s bet is that Ukrainian won’t be very happy with this situation… He’ll then let Tymoshenko do her job!

The situation is not as critical and probably will never be. But this is definitely the game Putin is playing these days. Will Tymoshenko accept to play the same game, If she gets too power will she be mor flexible?

I’m actually not sure about that and that’s were Putin’s strategy appears a bit hazardous. Throughout her career and lifetime Tymoshenko has always appeared as the most agressive Ukrainian politicans toward Russia. If I were Putin I’d rather try too do business with Yushhchenko who is more of a pragmatic leader.

But maybe Putin knows facts that I don’t. Maybe we’ll witness in the coming months of years to come, secret deals…


Gary Kasparov’s interview

I like this guy! I think this video is a perfect introduction to Russian politics (from an opposition’s perspective of course). Kasparov gives some of the keys of the current struggles in today’s Russia and makes it clear for an American public (not that easy I guess!!!)

I particularly love his way to take examples out of American politics to explain his point, it’s brilliant (but who would say Kasparov is not one of the most brilliant mind of our time).

Once that said, I also think that unfortunately, Kasparov has a very American perception of politics. I’m affraid he’s been out of the country for too long and that the standards he promotes can not fit with Russia.

I and many people in Russia who respect and admire Kasparov, believe that he goes too far comparing Putin’s administration to the Soviet era.

Kasparov is however a very ambitious man and we shall continue hearing about him in the months and years to come.