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Richly endowed in natural resources, Ukraine has been fought over and subjugated for centuries; its 20th-century struggle for liberty is not yet complete. A short-lived independence from Russia (1917-1920) was followed by brutal Soviet rule that engineered two artificial famines (1921-22 and 1932-33) in which over 8 million died, and World War II, in which German and Soviet armies were responsible for some 7 million more deaths. Although independence was attained in 1991 with the dissolution of the USSR, true freedom remains elusive as many of the former Soviet elite remain entrenched, stalling efforts at economic reform, privatisation, and civic liberties.
Update No: 261 - (26/09/02)
On September 16th tens of thousands of Ukrainians around the country joined protests to demand that the president, Leonid Kuchma, resign or call early elections. The next day protesters set up a tent camp in front of his presidential office, with 760 tents, vowing not to go away until Kuchma stepped down.
But several thousand police officers had no difficulty in breaking up the camp and dispersing the protesters. An opposition leader, Yulia Tymoshenko, who was formerly a vice premier, said that 5,000 police were involved and beat up 4,500 people around the tents (put up because of heavy rain). The police invoked a court decision last week that the protests be held at an airfield outside Kiev. A number of people, put at 64 by the police and 141 by the opposition, were detained.
The crisis has put into sharp relief the different attitudes among the political parties about how to handle the Kuchma problem. The president is deeply tainted by charges of violating a wide range of human rights, of vote-rigging and even of complicity in murder.
The scandal has been around for two years now. No-one believes in his innocence, even on the murder charge, which referred to the disappearance of an investigative journalist two years ago, George Gongadze, whose headless corpse was later found abandoned in a field.
He has not been the only journalist to disappear. What is special about the Gongadze case is that Kuchma's bodyguard has released tapes in which Kuchma is heard ordering his dispatch in coarse language, as well as vote-rigging in his re-election in October 1999.
But Kuchma denies it all, saying that the tapes are fake. But then he would, would he not.
Nobody should be condemned without trial. But for there to be one in his case would involve his impeachment. Proceedings to bring this about are still under way, but have failed for over a year to get the two-thirds majority in parliament required.
The opposition are trying to get an early emergency parliamentary session to evaluate the legality of police action. It is significant no mention was made of impeachment at a news conference of Tymoshenko herself, Oleksandr Moroz, the Socialist party leader, and the Communist leader, Peter Symonenko.
While the opposition is organising for the next presidential elections in October 2004, it is doubtful that they really want to pursue impeachment against Kuchma.
One thing that is protecting Kuchma is that he is not allowed to stand for another term, under the constitution. He has barely two years to go. Why disrupt the whole governance of the country in the interim for a doubtful advantage, a belated removal from power, which he is bound anyway soon to relinquish?
Kuchma's successor: premier Kinakh or ex-premier Yushchenko?
Everyone's attention is on the question of his likely successor. The obvious figure to succeed the president in Ukraine is the premier. Kuchma chose shrewdly in a crisis last year blown up by parliament, when he dropped premier Alexander Yushchenko, former head of the National Bank, for Anatoly Kinakh, head of the crucial parliamentary faction, the Party of Entrepreneurs and Industrialists, the party of the bigwigs and bosses in other words.
Yushchenko was showing signs of becoming unduly popular, presiding over an economic boom, with GDP growing by 7.3% in 2000 and 5.7% in 2001. The storm-clouds gathered last year over revelations by his ex-bodyguard of what Kuchma had said in 1999, the record being on various tapes. Yushchenko looked the obvious replacement, should an impeachment process, already under way in parliament at the time, have continued. Dumping Yushchenko in favour of Kinakh was the work of a moment, once the ex-bank chief got involved in a battle with the die-hards in parliament.
Yushchenko has not responded in kind. Before the recent demonstrations, he had not uttered a word of criticism of the president, saying that he deserves and should command respect for his office. But he did speak out in favour of the demonstrators, who include, after all, reputable opposition figures who might well have a part to play in future Ukrainian politics. Nevertheless, it is not entirely impossible that Kuchma would turn back to Yushchenko before he retires - on an understanding of an amnesty for all misbehaviour before now.
He would be likely to be given it. A positive figure in Ukraine as Yushchenko undoubtedly is, he is a technocrat like reformer Shlapak (his possible premier should he become president). But he is not above suspicion in involvement in financial scandal himself, an IMF one million US dollars going missing on his watch as bank chief. He would clearly be such a vast improvement upon Kuchma and Kinakh that the West would turn a blind eye to that for sure.
Gas pipeline to be developed
Putin and Kuchma have agreed to pursue the development of an Ukrainian pipeline route for exports of Russian gas to Europe. The pipeline runs through Ukraine to Germany.
The problem has been safety of supply. The pipeline has been 'porous' while some Ukrainian bigwigs have quickly become very rich. That is what Kiev needs to address and solve.
The dictatorial style of the Ukrainian regime is a help rather than hindrance if the conundrum is to be tackled. Putin, Kuchma and Shroeder signed a statement of intent on cooperation in St. Petersburg in August to further the pipeline, making it a conduit for Russian gas, not just to Germany, but Western Europe as a whole. The actual deal itself is due for signature on October 7th, a deadline for Russian and Ukrainian cooperation.
Ukraine optimistic on grain exports to Europe
Ukraine's chances to export part of its early grain harvest have improved due to the decision by the European Union to lift the tariffs previously imposed on Ukrainian grain imports, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Leonid Kozachenko has told journalists, Ukrayina Moloda has reported. He said the European Commission had adopted a decision to that effect. Kozachenko says the decision has been welcomed by Ukrainian traders, who had signed contracts to export almost 300,000 tonnes of grain to European countries within two days after the decision was made.
However, the decision is temporary and in October a Ukrainian government delegation will meet Franz Fischler, a member of the European Commission responsible for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries, to discuss Ukraine's quotas. Kozachenko says Ukraine can export about 3m tonnes of grain to the European Union this season. Last season Ukraine sold 2m tonnes of grain to Western Europe.
Gazprom-Naftohaz Ukrainy reach gas storage deal
Gazprom CEO, Alexei Miller, and Naftohaz Ukrainy head, Yuri Boiko, have come to an agreement on the Russian natural giant using Ukraine's underground gas storage facilities. "The issue of Ukrainian underground gas storage facilities has been fully settled," Interfax News Agency was quoted as telling reporters. Ukraine, which possesses the largest gas storage system in Europe, has 13 underground gas storage facilities, which are designed for storing over 30bn cubic metres of gas. In recent years, only about half of these facilities have been used, with 16bn to 18bn cubic metres of gas stored there. Some two-thirds of this gas is from Russia.
Kiev insists on controlling shares in gas consortium
Ukrainian Prime Minister, Anatoly Kinakh has confirmed his country's stance that Kiev should have a 50% +1 share in the future consortium that will manage the gas pipeline network from Russia to Europe.
"We believe this is a justified and objective attitude on the part of Ukraine, considering the importance of the gas transit network for us," Interfax News Agency quoted him as telling a news conference in Kiev. The draft agreement on the formation of the consortium submitted to Russia implies the 50% +1 stake, he added.
Earlier, at his Moscow talks with Russian Prime Minister, Mikhail Kasyanov, Kinakh agreed that at first Ukraine and Russia would form a consortium to manage the network, and later other countries, particularly Germany and France, might join in.
At the news conference, Kinakh confirmed that Ukraine is not considering the possibility of privatising its gas transit network at this time. "Gas mains are strategic facilities that have a very strong impact on Ukraine's national, economic and political security," the news agency quoted him as saying.
Expert talks on the consortium between Ukraine and Russia will be completed in the near future, after which another round of intergovernmental talks involving Germany will be held. Kinakh said that German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, suggested the formation of a trilateral expert working group with Ukraine and Russia to draft proposals related to establishing the consortium.
Ukrainian premier invites Poland to join gas consortium
Ukrainian Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh has invited Poland to participate in the creation of an international consortium to operate the Ukrainian gas pipeline system, Interfax-Ukraine News Agency has reported.
He proposed this at a meeting with Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller in Krynica, the press secretary of the Ukrainian prime minister, Serhiy Nahoryanskyy, told journalists after the meeting.
Kinakh said that Poland's participation in the consortium made sense, in particular, because Poland was an inalienable part of the European energy supply system with a major gas pipeline going through its territory.
The two prime ministers also discussed the prospective Eurasian oil transport corridor (the Odessa-Brody-Gdansk oil pipeline). According to Nahoryanskyy, the prime ministers recognized the importance of a joint appeal to third countries, in particular the EU, regarding the need for the pipeline and for attracting necessary financial resources.
Ukraine supplies oil pipes to Iraq
The scientific-industrial and investment group Interpipe, which controls a number of large steelworks in Ukraine, has supplied the first 3,200 tonnes of pipes for an oil pipeline to Iraq under the UN Oil for Food programme. The diameter of the pipes is 168mm and 219mm, Interfax-Ukraine News Agency has reported.
The pipes were made at the Nyzhnyodniprovskyy pipe plant which belongs to the group, the Interpipe's head of the pipe exports group, Anton Sokolovskyy, has said.
The shipment was carried out as part of a contract signed with the Southern oil company, one of the largest state-owned companies on the Iraqi oil market, and was agreed with the UN office for Iraqi programmes in April this year.
This shipment is Interpipe's first contact with Iraqi companies. In the future, "the corporation is regarding supplies to Iraq as a key link in expanding its presence on the Middle Eastern markets," Sokolovskyy said.
He also said that an Interpipe delegation has been on a visit to Iraq to discuss further pipe shipments for the country's oil and gas sector.
Ukraine to borrow up to US$900m on foreign markets in 2003
Ukraine has not abandoned its intention to borrow about US$750m-950m don international markets in 2003 to partially refinance its foreign debt, payments on which are to reach their peak next year, Interfax-Ukraine News Agency has reported. Ukrainian Finance Minister, Ihor Yushko, announced this to journalists after his meeting with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, at which the 2003 budget draft was discussed.
"Markets are waiting for Ukraine to borrow," the minister said, commenting on his earlier meetings with investors.
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