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UKRAINIAN DEPUTY PREMIER CRITICIZES IMF FOR BLOCKING LOANS... Yuriy Yekhanurov on 12 March rebuked the IMF for blocking its loan program to Ukraine with irrelevant obstacles, Reuters reported. Yekhanurov, who was scheduled to meet with IMF officials the same day, said Kyiv has made progress on eight issues that the fund saw as problematic. Those issues included the abolishment of barter deals, improved collection of payments in the energy sector, and banking reforms. "We need the IMF's acknowledgment [of that progress] as a moral endorsement of the reforms that our government is pursuing. We want the world to know that our government is implementing reforms properly," Yekhanurov told Reuters. JM
...SAYS U.S. TIES AID TO KYIV TO THE RESOLUTION OF UNREST. Yekhanurov also told Reuters that he urged the new U.S. administration to continue providing aid to Ukraine, which he said had been of great importance in helping Ukraine evolve as a free market democracy. However, Yekhanurov added that Daniel Fried, the U.S. State Department's top expert on Europe, suggested that Kyiv must first resolve its current political turmoil before applying for aid. Asked if Fried promised that Ukraine would receive continued assistance, Yekhanurov replied: "No, he didn't.... That decision will not be taken immediately." Washington gave Kiev $187 million in aid last year. JM
UKRAINIAN LAWMAKERS DIFFER ON PLANNED ACCORD WITH GOVERNMENT. Premier Viktor Yushchenko is currently discussing a draft accord between the government and the parliamentary majority on mutual responsibilities and obligations, Interfax reported. The need for such a document has been questioned by both pro-government and opposition parliamentary groups. Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz said the accord is unnecessary, adding that the constitution is sufficient for regulating relations between the government and the legislature. Oleksandr Zinchenko, head of the Social Democratic Party (United) caucus, criticized the draft as "extremely raw" and "including a lot of contradictions." Yushchenko's intention to sign an accord with the parliamentary majority is seen by some Ukrainian commentators as a move to prevent his ouster next month (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 13 March 2001). JM
UKRAINIAN OMBUDSWOMAN WARNS AGAINST 'CIVIL WAR,' CALLS FOR TALKS. Nina Karpachova has called on politicians to come to the negotiating table in order to "constructively resolve" the current political unrest in Ukraine, Interfax reported on 12 March. Karpachova made her appeal while visiting hospitalized policemen who suffered injuries in 9 March clashes with demonstrators in Kyiv protesting against President Leonid Kuchma (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 2001). "All should be aware of the threat of civil war [in Ukraine]," Karpachova said. JM
POLISH PRESIDENT TO MEET KUCHMA DESPITE PROTESTS. President Aleksander Kwasniewski has said he will meet his Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kuchma on 15 March in Kazimierz Dolny, southern Poland, despite pressure from parliamentarians in both countries to cancel the visit, Reuters reported on 13 March. "I am meeting President Kuchma because we have a strategic partnership with Ukraine and this is something that is very binding," Kwasniewski said. Lawmaker Stefan Niesiolowski from Solidarity Electoral Action asked Kwasniewski not to meet Kuchma, who he said is looking for support abroad at a time of increasing domestic crisis. "The situation in Ukraine is not clear and there are suspicions that Kuchma is involved in an ugly murder case," Niesiolowski said. A group of Ukrainian lawmakers arrived in Warsaw on March 13 to drum up support for protests against the Ukrainian president's visit. JM
PATRIARCH PROMISES TO PROTECT RUSSIANS ABROAD. Aleksii II told a group of Russians from the former Soviet republics that "you are flesh of flesh and blood of blood of our people," adding that "we see it as our duty to take part in all actions aimed at consolidating the unity of our compatriots living abroad," Interfax reported. The patriarch also condemned efforts to separate from the Russian Orthodox Church orthodox congregations in Estonia and Ukraine and said that it is not yet time for Pope John Paul II to visit Ukraine, the news agency reported. Meanwhile, Russian media gave prominent play to the closure of the only Russian- language daily in Lithuania, noting that its editors had informed President Putin that the paper will cease publication, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 6 March. A committee headed by Duma speaker Seleznev announced the same day that a Slavic Congress of the Peoples of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine will take place in Moscow 1-2 June, Interfax said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March)
'UKRAINE WITHOUT KUCHMA' DEMONSTRATORS CLASH WITH POLICE. According to international media, from 5,000 to 10,000 people demonstrated against President Leonid Kuchma at the presidential administration building in Kyiv on 9 March, staging the largest anti-presidential rally in the "Ukraine Without Kuchma" series. An official police report said 4,000 people participated in the rally. The protest escalated into serious violence, with people hurling stones and Molotov cocktails at police officers. Police accused the radical nationalist Ukrainian National AssemblyUkrainian National Self-Defense of provoking clashes, while the organization said the clashes were caused by the authorities, who allegedly planted provocateurs with Molotov cocktails into the crowd. Police detained 217 participants in the rally. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March)
KUCHMA COMPARES ANTI-PRESIDENTIAL OPPONENTS TO 'BROWN PLAGUE.' Kuchma on 10 March said tolerating the activities of radical nationalists within the ranks of his opponents is similar to the 1938 Munich agreement accepting Hitler's expansionist policies before the outbreak of World War II, Reuters reported. "Let people see with their own eyes the signs of just such a brown plague that could just develop in Ukraine given a situation of this sort. We should be careful, as things start from small beginnings," he noted. And in last week's interview with the German magazine "Focus," the Ukrainian president said people take to the streets in Ukraine for money. "Just look at this circus with the demonstrations. People have been paid to take part. For many students it's a real business," AP quoted him as saying in the interview. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March)
NEW ANTI-KUCHMA COMMITTEE EMERGES. An All-Ukrainian Public Resistance Committee "For the Truth!" was founded in Kyiv on 9 March. Interfax reported that the initiators of the committee included leaders of the student hunger strikes on Kyiv's Independence Square in 1990. "[Our main goal] is not simply to replace one president with another, but to fully reconstruct the entire system of political, economic, and social relations in Ukraine," the agency quoted Volodymyr Chemerys from the committee's leadership as saying. Chemerys was hospitalized on 11 March with a diagnosis of a brain concussion suffered in the 9 March clashes at the presidential administration building. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March)
NGO TRAINER ASSOCIATION PROJECT. Counterpart Creative Center (CCC), Kyiv, Ukraine, a Ukrainian non-profit organization and an official affiliate of Counterpart International, is working on a two-year "Ukrainian NGO Trainer Association and Evaluation Project", supported by Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. The CCC has gathered information on existing Trainers' Associations in different countries, but more information is needed. Results of the study will be disseminated via the bulletin of the Ukrainian NGO Trainer Association. Contact persons: Lyuba Palyvoda, Yulia Tykhomyrova, Lyudmyla Yelcheva at email: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; and firstname.lastname@example.org (Center for Civil Society International, 6 March)
NEW THIRD SECTOR PORTAL. Visit new Internet-portal "The Third Sector: Ukraine" at http://www.ngoukraine.kiev.ua Also visit the administrator's website: http://www.idc.org.ua. (Center for Civil Society International, 4 March)
END NOTE: AN OLIGARCHIC TAKEOVER IN UKRAINE? xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
UKRAINIAN STUDENTS DEMAND KUCHMA'S IMPRISONMENT, RELEASE OF PROTESTERS. Some 3,000 students marched in Lviv on 13 March, calling for the imprisonment of President Leonid Kuchma, the sacking of Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko, and the release of protesters arrested during the 9 March antipresidential rally in Kyiv, Interfax reported. The march took place without any reported violence. Last week, agencies reported that the Kyiv police arrested some 100 students, primarily from Lviv and other western Ukrainian cities, while they were gathering at a railway station to return home from the anti-Kuchma rally and the founding congress of the AllUkrainian Public Resistance Committee "For the Truth!" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 2001). JM
UKRAINIAN PREMIER BLAMES OLIGARCHS FOR PARLIAMENTARY CRISIS. Viktor Yushchenko on 13 March said the current crisis in the pro-government parliamentary majority has been provoked by some oligarchs whose "primitive interests" have been harmed by the introduction of government control over the flow of money in the economy, Interfax reported. According to Yushchenko, the government deprived those oligarchs of "[their] traditional methods of work on the energy market, from which hundreds of millions of hryvni were diverted to satisfy some political appetites." Yushchenko added that the current crisis in the parliamentary majority is a "serious test for the political consolidation of Ukrainian society" (see also "End Note"). JM
JAILED TYMOSHENKO WARNS AGAINST KUCHMA'S TOTALITARIANISM. Former Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko, who is now in prison, published a letter in the 14 March "Financial Times," which said that President Kuchma is consciously building a totalitarian state in Ukraine. Tymoshenko said Kuchma has blocked all reforms and anticorruption efforts by the government in the energy sector. She noted that the president routinely ignored requests from her to investigate and prosecute individuals involved in stealing large amounts of money in the energy sector. She added that Kuchma also ignored the government's privatization efforts in the sector and is now preparing accords to hand energy enterprises over to Russia in exchange for political support for his regime. "My only 'crime' has been to fight the corruption, shadow economy, and totalitarianism that have been created by this president of Ukraine," Tymoshenko concluded in the letter. JM
U.S. THREATENS TRADE SANCTIONS AGAINST UKRAINE OVER COPYRIGHT PIRACY. The United States on 13 March threatened to impose trade sanctions against Ukraine unless its government makes a greater effort to control what U.S. companies claim is the widespread piracy of music, computer programs, and other copyrighted material, AP reported. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick announced that his office has begun an investigation into Ukraine's practices, which could result in trade sanctions if the matter is not resolved over the next three months. The U.S. recording industry estimates that Ukraine has produced and exported 60-80 million pirated compact discs over the past two years, costing U.S. recording companies over $200 million annually in lost revenue. JM
POLISH PRESIDENT AGAINST ISOLATING KUCHMA. "Isolation of [Ukrainian President] Kuchma and, generally, of Ukraine, is the worst imaginable thing," Andrzej Majkowski, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski's aide for international affairs, told PAP on 13 March. Majkowski was commenting on calls to cancel the Kwasniewski-Kuchma meeting scheduled for 15 March. Meanwhile, Kwasniewski said earlier the same day that he will discuss Ukraine's domestic situation with Kuchma and urge the Ukrainian president to hold talks with the opposition. Major Polish politicians have also spoken against canceling the two presidents' meeting. Sejm speaker Maciej Plazynski said the cancellation of Kuchma's visit would be an "unfriendly gesture." "I feel that it is in the interest of the entire region to pull Ukraine into the system of European institutions, from which there can of course be no isolation," noted Jerzy Rybicki, a leader of the Solidarity Electoral Action. JM
BULGARIAN PYRAMID SCHEME OWNER GETS PRISON SENTENCE. The Sofia city court sentenced Michael Kapustin on 13 March to 23 years in jail for embezzling some $4 million from some 2,800 investors, BTA reported. Kapustin, a Ukrainian-born Canadian, was the owner of Life Choice International, a pyramid scheme that stopped paying returns to investors in 1995. The trial against him began in 1999 but was repeatedly adjourned as Kapustin changed defense lawyers and interpreters. Some 30,000 Bulgarians are estimated to have lost money in getrich pyramid schemes, Reuters reported. PB
AN OLIGARCHIC TAKEOVER IN UKRAINE?
Ukrainian Premier Viktor Yushchenko met on 10 March with the leadership of the parliamentary majority to discuss a "political accord" between the cabinet and the legislative majority in order to define the mutual obligations and responsibilities of the government and its legislative support group. Interfax reported that the meeting resulted in a decision to set up a working group to draft such an accord.
Oleksandr Turchynov, leader of the Fatherland Party parliamentary caucus, commented after the meeting that he fully shares Yushchenko's conviction that his cabinet works in a businesslike manner. Turchynov said the recently voiced alarms about a crisis in Yushchenko's cabinet are only an attempt by some political forces to divert public attention from the political crisis in the country and transform it into a cabinet problem. Turchynov added that no lawmaker proposed any personnel changes in the cabinet during the meeting with Yushchenko. The Fatherland Party parliamentary caucus is against the signing of a joint accord by the government and the parliamentary majority, and is opting for a series of accords between the cabinet and each separate pro-government parliamentary group.
Yuriy Kostenko, leader of the Ukrainian Popular Rukh, told Interfax that the only possible non-leftist progovernment majority is the one presently existing. Kostenko added that any attempt at changing the current lineup of the parliamentary majority will put an end to the reformatory effort of the Ukrainian legislature.
Kostenko seemed to be commenting on last month's ultimatum by first deputy parliamentary speaker and a major oligarch, Viktor Medvedchuk, who said that unless Yushchenko forms a coalition cabinet, "the reformist parliamentary majority will create a new coalition government with a new premier." For some political observers of the Ukrainian political scene, Medvedchuk's statement clearly signaled the beginning of a crucial campaign by Ukrainian oligarchs to rearrange the country's top echelons of power.
The testing day for Yushchenko will be on 10 April, when he is expected to deliver a report to the parliament on the performance of his cabinet. Some political analysts say the parliament is very likely to dismiss Yushchenko under the pretext of his alleged failure to deliver on a government program that was approved by lawmakers a year ago. Yushchenko may be voted out jointly by the Communists -- whose representative will subsequently head the legislature -- and some oligarchic caucuses that want Medvedchuk (or some other oligarch) to head the government.
There are three major oligarchic parties in Ukraine, each of which has its own parliamentary representation: the Social Democratic Party (United) (led by oligarchs Medvedchuk and Hryhoriy Surkis); the Democratic Union (Oleksandr Volkov); and the Labor Ukraine Party (Serhiy Tyhypko, Viktor Pynchuk, and Andriy Derkach). The parties may have a keen interest in unseating Yushchenko for at least two reasons.
Firstly, Yushchenko, assisted by courageous Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko, has managed to shift the majority of payments in Ukraine's economy from shady barter schemes to transparent cash settlements, thus depriving Ukrainian oligarchs of considerable profits. Secondly, Ukraine is to hold parliamentary elections next year, and the oligarchs may simply want to have their own people in the government to grasp administrative levers of control over the situation in the country, which would better position their parties for the upcoming election campaign.
As of now, President Leonid Kuchma seems to be in full control of the situation in the country, but it is also obvious to everyone that he is currently more concerned about what takes place on Kyiv's streets and squares than about developments in parliamentary lobbies and government offices. Taking advantage of the president's political troubles, the oligarchs -- who have thus far influenced developments in Ukraine from behind Kuchma's back -- now appear to be prepared to take the reins of power directly in their hands.
Yushchenko's immediate and defiant reaction to the oligarchs' move indicated that he is aware of the looming political takeover in Ukraine. On 28 February he commented on Medvedchuk's threat that "the government will never participate in a dialogue of ultimatums with any political force." Yushchenko added that Medvedchuk's statement is "a prologue for destabilizing the situation in Ukraine" and "an attempt to change Ukraine's future." Speaking on behalf of his cabinet, which discussed the domestic political situation during a closed-door session, he noted: "We are convinced that this is a purely clannish approach toward organizing Ukrainian politics."
Last week, however, Yushchenko proposed that talks be held between the government and the parliamentary majority on signing a political accord that could regulate mutual relations. Some see this proposal as an indication that in the meantime the premier unsuccessfully tried to get support from Kuchma to strengthen the cabinet's stand against oligarchs. True, Kuchma publicly declared he is not going to dismiss Yushchenko's cabinet. But he added, however, that the government should be efficient and depend more on the parliamentary majority. Yushchenko apparently treated this pronouncement as less than comforting, and made an attempt at concluding a separate peace agreement with the oligarchs.
It may sound paradoxical to many, but the question of whether Kuchma survives the current political unrest in Ukraine seems to be of secondary importance in comparison with the question of Yushchenko's survival. Yushchenko's possible ouster in April may not only disrupt the current positive economic trends in the country, along with the government's reformist course, but also make a much more gloomy prospect a reality. Ukraine may soon find itself left to the full discretion of those who contributed enormously over the past 10 years to the plunging of the country into all-encompassing corruption, economic inefficiency, and abject poverty.