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JOURNALISTS SNUB PROSECUTOR-GENERAL'S OFFICE IN SOLIDARITY PROTEST. A dozen journalists from several Ukrainian television channels and newspapers left a news conference by Deputy Prosecutor-General Vasyl Prysyazhnyuk in Kyiv on 4 December to protest the refusal of the Prosecutor-General's Office to accredit a journalist from the Internet publication "Ukrayinska pravda" for the event, UNIAN reported. "Because you present the position of the Prosecutor-General's Office and use the information obtained at news conferences in a biased manner, we think that our further cooperation is inexpedient," the "Ukrayinska pravda" website quoted a representative of the Prosecutor-General's Office as saying to justify the rejection. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December)

JOURNALIST ACCUSES PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION OF STIFLING MEDIA... Addressing a parliamentary hearing on the freedom of expression on 4 December, the nascent Independent Trade Union of Journalists' Kyivan leader Andriy Shevchenko described a policy whereby the presidential administration effectively dictates news coverage through unsigned cues sent to media outlets, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported. He said such prompts, or "temnyky," detail what news and in what manner the presidential administration wishes to see information reported in newspapers and on radio and television. "In actual fact, television news coverage in Ukraine is made in a remote-control mode. Someone else, not journalists, edits news programs, shoots and disseminates videos, writes texts, and selects comments by governors, which are subsequently sent to all channels," Shevchenko said. "Let us admit honestly: Instead of news coverage, Ukraine gets lies. Because every half-truth is a lie, and there should be no illusions about that." Shevchenko proposed that media legislation be amended to broaden the definition of illegal interference in journalistic activities and toughen sanctions for such interference. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December)

...AND NEWS AGENCY'S EDITOR PROVIDES MORE DETAILS. Oleksandr Kharchenko, editor in chief of the UNIAN news agency, said at the same hearing that authorities have recently begun "taming" Ukrainian news agencies to encourage a certain manner of reportage, UNIAN reported. According to Kharchenko, UNIAN's pluralistic information policy has undergone change since the appointment of Executive Director Vasyl Yurychko earlier this year. Kharchenko said Yurychko has limited journalists' opportunities to present differing points of view in their news coverage and initiated a policy of publication that can be construed as politically biased. Deputy Prime Minister Dmytro Tabachnyk proposed setting up a working group comprising lawmakers, government officials, and journalists to propose amendments to media legislation. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December)


Ukrainian journalists, civic activists, and politicians complain that the government of President Leonid Kuchma is trying to curb freedom of speech and control the media in the country. Western governments, the Council of Europe, and various human rights organizations who have investigated the allegations largely support the accusations.

In the past, most of the complaints have dealt with newspapers, television, and radio. Now, however, the owner of a publishing company called Taki Spravy says that his case shows that books are not exempt from the Ukrainian government's desire to control freedom of speech.

Serhiy Danylov says that more than 30 raids by Ukrainian tax police have occurred since Taki Spravy published a biography of one of Kuchma's fiercest critics, former Deputy Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, last February.

Some 900,000 copies of the book, "Unfulfilled Orders," have been sold, making it one of the most successful books printed since Ukrainian independence. Danylov said he has no doubt that the tax raids are a direct result of the book's publication. "The commissioning of the publishing of the book that is called 'Unfulfilled Orders' -- nothing else interested [the tax police]. That's the only thing that interested them. Who had the audacity to publish such a book?"

Danylov started Taki Spravy in 1988 and later registered it in Lithuania with a Lithuanian partner, believing the move would give his company -- one of Ukraine' top three publishing firms -- greater protection from government interference.

Danylov said the tax police accuse him of being involved in money laundering and have tried to take court action that would force the sale of his business at auction. He said that despite handing over audits and documents demanded by the tax police, they continue to carry out military-style raids intended to intimidate him and his employees. He described one such raid: "On 6 March, there was a search. Fifteen men suddenly appeared at our business premises with two men at the doors of each office that interested them and two inside without warrants, without anything. There were armed men at the entrance and a busload of men armed with machine guns outside. The search was illegal, and they were immediately told that. They replied that if they were not immediately allowed in to search, then in five minutes every employee of the business would be lying on the ground."

Observers say investigations by the tax police have become a routine method to harass media seen as unfriendly to the government. Ukraine's complex and muddled tax and business regulations mean that almost any business can be accused of not following regulations. Danylov denies any wrongdoing. "I've got all the documents to prove that I am a publisher and printer and not somebody involved in money laundering. And they have no proof, and they can't have any proof because I have never taken part in such activities."

Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun denies that the investigation against Taki Spravy is politically motivated and said that none of the investigating authorities has infringed the law.

Ivan Lozowy is the director of an independent think tank based in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. Lozowy said the Taki Spravy case has attracted widespread interest. He says Ukrainian politicians have condemned the authorities' actions against Taki Spravy and that the European Union recently informed the Ukrainian government of its interest in the case.

Lozowy said most observers have no doubt the case is politically motivated and is an example of a "nayizd" -- the popular term for government pressure against a company or group that has displeased it. "It's pretty apparent that the authorities are lying through their teeth when they say that the case has nothing to do with politics or Tymoshenko's book."

Lozowy said that former Justice Minister Serhiy Holovatiy and another former deputy prime minister, Viktor Penzenyk, are among those who have championed Taki Spravy's case in the Ukrainian parliament, and that the parliamentary Committee on Freedom of Speech plans to investigate the matter. "Members of the parliamentary Committee on Freedom of Speech are sufficiently interested in such a well-known case in Ukraine that a special parliamentary committee will be set up to investigate it. Particularly in the light that this case has been dragging on and on with no end or resolution in sight because the tax authorities are simply interested -- in the view of most observers, including prominent lawyers -- in basically bringing the enterprise, the company, to its knees -- [that is] destroying it. And that's the whole political nature of this 'nayizd' or rollover or pressure brought to bear on the publishing house Taki Spravy. It's inconvenient as an independent, a truly independent, publishing house in Ukraine, and the task has been set to destroy it."

Danylov this week gave evidence at a Ukrainian parliamentary hearing on the press and censorship in the country.

Danylov said that because of the authorities' actions, his business has suffered and may be ruined. He has, therefore, begun his own court action against the tax police and is suing them for 15 million euros in compensation.

He said he is not confident of success in Ukraine so has started proceedings before a U.S. court in Washington, D.C., which arbitrates on international business disputes and can enforce payment of monetary awards against a government by impounding its assets, such as ships or aircraft. "But the court that we can directly turn to, in accordance with an agreement between Lithuania and Ukraine, is the court in Washington created by the Washington Convention of 1965 called the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes. And if Ukraine does not comply with the decision of this court, it will regret not doing so for a long, long time."

Danylov said his life may be in danger because of his actions and that he is taking precautions for his safety. He said his best protection -- and the best hope for saving his company -- is publicity from the international media about his case.

GOVERNMENT MOVES FORWARD IN PIPELINE INTEGRATION PROJECT. Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov signed a document calling for the integration of Russia's dominant Druzhba pipeline through Belarus, Ukraine, and Slovakia with the Adria pipeline that transits Hungary and Croatia, reported on 11 December. The Russian government should sign an accord in Zagreb on 16 December related to the Druzhba-Adria Pipeline Integration Project. The accord, with the relevant governments, will place those two pipelines under a single economic entity and guarantee a supply of 15 million tons of Russian oil (90 million barrels) to the world market through the Croatian port of Omisalj. State-owned Transneft, which initiated the scheme, will operate the project for the Russian side. VY

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BELARUS TO CLEAN UP CHORNOBYL-HIT AREAS WITH INTERNATIONAL AID. The Belarusian government intends to implement a program next year to rehabilitate four raions that were heavily contaminated with radioactive substances in the wake of the 1986 Chornobyl disaster, Belapan reported on 12 December. The plan will target Brahin and Chechersk (Homel Oblast), Stolin (Brest Oblast), and Slauharad (Mahilyou Oblast). A government official told journalists that implementation will be aided by the European Commission, the UN Development Program, the World Bank, the French Embassy in Belarus, and the Swiss Foreign Department's Development and Cooperation Office. Newly appointed French Ambassador to Belarus Stephane Chmelewsky said EU ambassadors will monitor the program to ensure that the assistance goes directly to residents of those areas. "There are certain tensions in relations between Belarus and the European Union," Chmelewsky noted. "However, assistance to the affected population is beyond these political tensions." JM

UKRAINIAN LAWMAKERS TRADE ACCUSATIONS IN WAKE OF BRAWL. A group of opposition lawmakers has appealed to parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn in a letter demanding that he ban deputy Hryhoriy Surkis from participating in parliamentary sessions for a week, UNIAN reported on 12 December. The letter claims that, during a wild fracas that erupted in the Verkhovna Rada on 12 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December 2002), Surkis struck opposition leader Yuliya Tymoshenko. Meanwhile, Surkis told journalists that it was Tymoshenko who "intended to beat him." Surkis, widely believed to be Ukraine's wealthiest oligarch, added that Tymoshenko kicked him in the leg, trying "to damage his only new shoes." The 12 December brawl in the Verkhovna Rada was sparked by a second attempt on the part of the pro-government majority to dismiss National Bank Governor Volodymyr Stelmakh and install Serhiy Tyhypko in the post. JM

U.S. AMBASSADOR WARNS KYIV AGAINST 'ISOLATION.' Speaking to students and lecturers of Ukrainian private universities in Kyiv on 12 December, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Carlos Pascual said President George W. Bush and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma are "unlikely to meet in the near future," UNIAN reported. Pascual said Ukraine is threatened with finding itself in "isolation" now, as practically every European country is either a member of NATO or the EU, or has been invited to join one of those two organizations. He stressed that demonstrating adherence to the Euro-Atlantic choice would be the only right decision for Ukraine. The ambassador also said Ukraine's Ministry of Economy has so far failed to permit the registration of two U.S. institutions -- the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute -- in Ukraine despite a year of talks on the issue. "The U.S. Congress considers [this failure] a sign that Ukraine fears transparency," UNIAN quoted Pascual as saying. JM

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT STRESSES UKRAINE'S PLACE IN 'VISION OF EUROPE.' Valdas Adamkus on 12 December said Lithuania will use its emerging place in Europe to help stabilize nearby Ukraine and enhance ties with Russia, Reuters reported. His remarks came on the eve of the Copenhagen summit on EU expansion, at which Lithuania and nine other countries hope to conclude talks on joining the bloc. "Our vision of Europe is incomplete without Ukraine," Adamkus said, urging the West to avoid isolating that country despite reservations about President Kuchma. "Today the most important thing is that countries like Ukraine have not reversed their policies and continue to struggle for an open and democratic society and free market." He declined to comment on neighboring Belarus, Reuters reported, where strongman President Lukashenka is increasingly isolated by the international community. Adamkus also said Lithuania's long-standing ties to Ukraine can help the EU engage its neighbor, Russia, adding that he is pleased with the gradual shift away from the threatening tone that dominated bilateral relations between Vilnius and Moscow after Lithuania regained its independence in 1991. AH


At his ninth meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, this time in Moscow on 9 December, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma lauded the fact that he and Putin understand each other and speak the same language, both figuratively and literally. "We do not need to try to convince one another about many matters -- while at the same time, in our conversations with our Western colleagues they often do not understand us," Kuchma told Putin. This, Kuchma said, is because Ukraine and Western Europe evolved "in different conditions -- we have different problems, different mentalities."

This is certainly the case with regard to the manner in which Kuchma's domestic policies are completely undermining his declared strategic goal of Euro-Atlantic integration. It has taken only nine months for Kuchma to reverse the outcome of the 31 March parliamentary elections in which pro-presidential blocs won only 18 percent of the vote in the proportional half compared to nearly 60 percent for four opposition blocs. Kuchma has now ensured himself a trouble-free transition to retirement after October 2004, when the next presidential elections are scheduled to be held.

In May, Social Democratic Party-united (SDPU-o) strongman Viktor Medvedchuk was appointed head of the presidential administration. Medvedchuk has orchestrated, on behalf of the executive, a drive against the opposition and a takeover of all key state institutions by three main oligarchic clans (the SDPU-o [Kyiv], Labor Ukraine [Dnipropetrovsk], and Ukraine's Regions [Donetsk]); five smaller satellite clans (Democratic Initiatives, European Choice, Power of the People, People's Choice, and the Agrarian Party); and the former "party of power," the Popular Democratic Party. All of these clans, with the exception of the SDPU-o, ran within the For a United Ukraine (ZYU) bloc that won only 11 percent of the vote in the March elections and fell apart immediately afterward.

The former head of the presidential administration and leader of ZYU, Volodymyr Lytvyn, was installed as parliamentary speaker in May. Lytvyn received 226 votes, only one more than required, with the help of former Prosecutor-General Mykhayko Potebenko. Potebenko was elected on the Communist Party list but was expelled after voting for Lytvyn. In 2000-02, he stalled the inquiry into the still-unresolved murder of opposition journalist Heorhiy Gongadze that sparked the "Kuchmagate" crisis. In July, Kuchma's candidate Svyatoslav Piskun was appointed to replace him as prosecutor-general.

Although ZYU and the SDPU-o only elected 54 deputies in the proportional half of the elections, this faction has grown in number to 234 through the addition of deputies elected in districts that use the first-past-the-post system, which favors "independent" pro-presidential centrists, as well as through bribery and the intimidation of opposition deputies. The culmination of the executive's takeover of parliament is its redistribution of the position of heads of its committees, many of which have been controlled by the opposition since the March elections.

Because of the close corporatist links between business and politics, businessmen within the opposition or those funding the opposition are routinely intimidated through raids by the State Tax Administration (STA) and court cases. This is probably the reason why Yuriy Kravchenko was appointed head of the STA. Kravchenko is the discredited former interior minister whom parliament forced to resign in February 2001. He is heard bragging on the audio recordings illicitly made in the president's office by former security guard Mykola Melnychenko about his "Eagles" special unit after Kuchma demanded that action be undertaken against Gongadze. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation is now undertaking an analysis of this fragment of the Melnychenko tapes. Kravchenko, who is highly loyal to Kuchma and is not a member of any clan, is of key importance to the president's efforts to ensure that no single clan can dominate Ukraine and is reportedly Kuchma's favorite to succeed him in 2004.

The appointment of Donetsk Governor Viktor Yanukovych as prime minister in November by a vote of 234 deputies heralded another step in taking control of state institutions. Nine pro-presidential factions representing the "parliamentary majority" have signed an agreement of cooperation with the new government after government positions were divided among the three main and six smaller clans.

Kuchma's candidate for the head of the Supreme Court, Vasyl Malyarenko, was elected in November. The Supreme Court will be important to head off any legal challenges to Kuchma's immunity deal and to regulate any potential disputes over the 2004 election results. Medvedchuk is also head of the Union of Ukrainian Lawyers.

The only temporary setback for the Kuchma strategy was his failure to appoint as National Bank chairman the head of the Labor Ukraine oligarchic clan, Serhiy Tyhypko. The National Bank will be crucial to ensure a relaxation of financial discipline to support populist social measures by the new government and to have "administrative resources" available for the 2004 elections. Tyhypko's election to this post would have effectively divided the plum top-three positions between the three main oligarchic clans -- presidential administration (Kyiv's SDPU-o), government (Donetsk's Ukraine's Regions), and the National Bank (Dnipropetrovsk's Labor Ukraine). Tyhypko obtained only 214 votes in the first attempt to place him in the position of National Bank chairman, but it is likely that the parliamentary majority will eventually succeed in having him elected. National Bank Chairman Volodymyr Stelmakh is under severe pressure to resign, and an inconclusive vote on 12 December to replace him with Tyhypko ended in scuffles between oligarchs and the opposition.

The final element of Kuchma's strategy is to take over the Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine (FPU), which is headed by Oleksandr Stoyan. Stoyan was No. 2 on Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc and defected this week to the parliamentary majority, which represents a major blow to Yushchenko's prestige and election chances in 2004. Stoyan has been quoted as saying, "I should not be in opposition to this government, I should work with it."

At the annual congress of the FPU this week, Medvedchuk's SDPU-o backed the first serious challenge to Stoyan's decade-long leadership by his first deputy, Valentyn Pozhydayev. Regional governors attended the FPU congress for the first time to pressure delegates from their regions to vote for Pozhydayev. Stoyan defected to the Kuchma camp in return for this pressure being called off and was thus able to retain his position as head of the FPU.

The political system emerging in Ukraine sees no role for the opposition and current trends would seem to herald an entrenchment of oligarchic control. This politically authoritarian and economically "liberal" model is more typical of CIS states, including Russia, than of postcommunist Central and Eastern Europe, or of Western Europe, to which Ukraine ostensibly wishes to integrate.