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RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
A Survey of Developments in Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine by the Regional Specialists of RFE/RL's Newsline Team
KUCHMA SET TO SIGN ELECTION LAW. Following four previous vetoes, President Leonid Kuchma told journalists on 19 October that he will most likely sign the parliamentary election bill passed by the parliament last week. Kuchma recalled that on the eve of the voting on the bill he met with a number of parliamentary leaders and reached a compromise. The Communist Party, the Socialist Party, and the Fatherland Party refused to back the bill.
The parliament on 18 October voted by 234 to 123, with 79 abstentions, to adopt a new version of the parliamentary election bill that was vetoed by Kuchma last month. Following Kuchma's suggestion, the deputies shortened the election campaign to 90 days. They insisted, however, on the provision that territorial election commissions obligatorily include members of the parties that won no less than 4 percent of the vote in the previous parliamentary ballot. As for more than 100 other parties, the bill stipulates that their representation in those commissions should be determined by drawing lots.
The bill abolishes the requirement to collect 500,000 signatures in support of parties seeking to register their candidates. Instead, a party is to pay a security deposit equal to 15,000 untaxed minimum official wages (some $48,000) in order to qualify for elections. Individual will have to submit 60 minimum wages ($190). The Communists and the Socialists claim their candidates are too poor to offer such sums, while their opponents argue that signature collection is more costly.
Fatherland Party leader Yuliya Tymoshenko said on 19 October that the adopted election bill "will work for the team of the Ukrainian president." She added that 90 days is not enough to properly canvass parliamentary election candidates in the media. It appears that Tymoshenko is afraid that Ukraine's most influential media -- which are controlled either by the state or the oligarchs -- will favor pro-presidential and oligarchic groups in the elections.
If Kuchma signs the bill, the election campaign will start on 1 January 2002, while the ballot will take place on 31 March.
RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report is prepared by Jan Maksymiuk on the basis of a variety of sources including reporting by "RFE/RL Newsline" and RFE/RL's broadcast services. It is distributed every Tuesday.
RUSSIA TO RESUME TALKS WITH COUNCIL OF EUROPE (15 October) Russia plans to resume negotiations with the Council of Europe on the export of Russian steel to Europe at the beginning of November, RosBusiness Consulting reported. According to Russian Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Maxim Medvedkov, a new agreement between Russia and the Council of Europe will replace an old one expiring in December 2001. He added that the consultations will be held on 16 October on the problems of exporting Russian pipes to Ukraine. Ways to further liberalize bilateral economic relations will also be discussed. However, Medvedkov said the metal workers favor restrictions imposed on the volume of Ukraine's pipe exports to Russia as they begin to bring positive results. (TSK)
Prosecutors from California have again postponed court hearings in the case against Ukraine's former prime minister, Pavel Lazarenko. Ilya Kolosov, a Ukrainian political analyst, believes the decision was influenced by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Russian Prosecutor General's Office.
According to the Agency of Political News (APN), new evidence revealed by the investigation prompted a delay in the trial against Lazarenko, accused of embezzlement and the illegal transfer of $300 million to foreign bank accounts. APN believes Ukraine's former deputy prime minister and the leader of the opposition Batkivshchina party, Yulia Timoshenko (who was also a long-time commercial partner of Lazarenko's), is the focus of the investigation. In Ukraine, Timoshenko is accused of committing financial misdeeds. Meanwhile in the U.S., officials drew attention to the Moscow links of the "gas princess." Specifically, investigators are seeking evidence concerning Timoshenko's ties to former Gazprom Chairman Rem Vyakhirev and some of Gazprom's top managers close to Vyakhirev. Along with Timoshenko, they will reportedly be summoned for questioning.
This is not the only lawsuit involving Lazarenko and Timoshenko. The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office has not closed the so-called "$450 million case." Most of this money -- from the Russian Defense Ministry budget -- disappeared in 1997 and 1998 after a number of complex deals between Gazprom, NRB and Imperial banks, Unified Energy System of Ukraine (UESU), and the Russian Defense and Finance ministries. At that point, UESU was under Lazarenko's control and Timoshenko was company president. Gazprom officials believe that prosecutor's office sent information on this and other related cases to their U.S. counterparts investigating the origin of the "Ukraine millions." APN speculated that all this will lead U.S. officials to the conclusion that Timoshenko was a corrupt link between Lazarenko and Gazprom.
It appears that the new Gazprom team, consisting mainly of former FSB officers, is looking for any evidence that could be used against the old Vyakhirev team. That view is bolstered by recent controversy over the deputy chairman's seat on the Gazprom board of directors. The deputy chairman is in charge of the company's financial inflows. As soon as Vyacheslav Sheremet left, Gazprom head Aleksei Miller handed the position to Petr Rodionov, an influential member of Vyakhirev's team. In less than two months, however, Miller decided to give the position to his deputy, Vitali Savelyev, a representative of the St. Petersburg financial elite. Rodionov kept the post of first deputy chairman, which gives him status but virtually no real power. Some rumors have it that this was compensation to Rodionov for revealing to the new Gazprom team the secrets practiced by Vyakhirev's team on how the company's assets were illegally transferred to other companies and financial networks.
APN asserted that putting Timoshenko under fire was part of a raft of confidential political agreements concluded between Russian President Putin and Ukrainian President Kuchma during their meeting in Kyiv on 23 September. Unlike other opposition parties in Ukraine, Batkyvshchina is not battling financial problems. Some observers believe that, in the 2004 presidential elections in Ukraine, Batkyvshchina will introduce and promote popular former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko as an effective counterweight to Kuchma and incumbent Prime Minister Anatolii Kinakh. Some believe that if he wins, Timoshenko will be appointed prime minister. Other Intercon sources doubt that scenario and point out that friction between those two is high. One Ukrainian said flatly that Timoshenko is finished, politically.
Keeping all this in mind, the investigation into secretive commercial deals between UESU and Gazprom's old team may prove beneficial for Gazprom's St. Petersburg team as well as the Kremlin. The former will be able to rid itself of Vyakhirev's old associates, while the latter will be provided a good chance to support the Kuchma administration in Ukraine.
As far as Timoshenko is concerned, her current political standing is shaky and uncertain, polit.ru speculates. Under the threat of criminal investigation in Ukraine, Timoshenko turned herself from the only female oligarch in the vast territory of the Commonwealth of Independent States into a political opposition figure -- "suffering for her belief." At first, the West was quite tolerant of her new political image. However, Timoshenko's radical political ideas (when compared to those of Yushchenko), her questionable business reputation, and links with corrupt officials seem to have turned the West's opinion upside-down. In a new game for the political future of Ukraine -- while Moscow supports Kuchma and Washington supports Yushchenko -- Timoshenko appears to be an unwelcome player. Moreover, polit.ru concludes, Timoshenko's long history is likely to haunt her as investigators in Russia and the U.S. gather evidence. (TSK)
RUSHAILO SAYS RUSSIAN AIRLINER BROUGHT DOWN BY UKRAINIAN MISSILE. Russian Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo said on 22 October that a Ukrainian missile had accidentally brought down a Russian airliner on 4 October, Interfax reported. At the same time, he said that Russia will not pay any compensation to the families of the victims, as that is Ukraine's responsibility. Meanwhile, Russia's Sibir airlines said on 22 October that it plans to file a suit against those responsible for the crash, Russian and Western news agencies reported. PG
KYIV, PRAGUE DISAGREE ON SIZE OF SOVIET-ERA DEBT. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko and his Czech counterpart Jan Kavan held talks in Kyiv on 22 October. Kavan urged Kyiv to repay its Sovietera debt to the Czech Republic, which dates back to a construction accord in 1985. Kavan said the debt should have been repaid by the end of 2000. "Depending on the dollar-hryvnya exchange rate to be used in calculations, we think Ukraine's debt amounts to $200-220 million," STB television quoted Kavan as saying. Meanwhile, Zlenko said the debt stands at $79.8 million, adding that Kyiv is going to pay it with commodities and gas supplies. JM
MOLDOVA'S TRANSDNIESTER LEADER IN KYIV. Igor Smirnov, the leader of Moldova's Transdniester breakaway region, met with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in Kyiv on 22 October, Interfax reported. "In particular, the presidents of both countries discussed relations between Ukraine and Transdniester in the energy, transport, and humanitarian spheres. Considerable attention was paid to the situation at the Transdniester-Ukraine border as well as to customs issues," Interfax quoted a Transdniester official as saying. The meeting followed last week's visit by Ukrainian Premier Anatoliy Kinakh to Chisinau, where Moldova and Ukraine failed to sign an expected accord on the introduction of joint customs service posts. JM
FORMER UKRAINIAN PREMIER REPORTEDLY SUES 'FINANCIAL TIMES.' The "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported on 22 October that former Premier Viktor Yushchenko has sued the "Financial Times" for an article the newspaper published on 5 June 2000. The article, which dealt with then-U.S. President Bill Clinton's visit to Kyiv, mentioned Yushchenko in one paragraph, saying that his government has been a disappointment and recalling that Yushchenko in his former capacity of National Bank governor was accused of mismanaging bank funds. JM