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UKRAINIAN GOVERNMENT UPBEAT ON MAINTAINING ECONOMIC GROWTH. First Deputy Premier Mykola Azarov told a cabinet meeting on 19 February that implementation of the government's economic program will allow the economy to grow by 5-6 percent in 2003 and by some 8 percent in 2004, Interfax reported. Ukrainian GDP grew by 4.1 percent in 2002. Azarov also said the cabinet and the parliament will strive to adopt a Tax Code this year that provides for a gradual reduction of the profit tax to 20 percent, value-added tax to 15 percent, and individual income tax to 20 percent. JM
U.S. CONGRESSMAN URGES BETTER TIES WITH UKRAINE. Congressman Curt Weldon (Republican, Pennsylvania), cochairman of the Group for Assistance to Ukraine in the U.S. House of Representatives, met with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, and a number of cabinet members in Kyiv in the past few days, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported on 19 February. Weldon told Ukrainian journalists that the group he cochairs will work toward increasing U.S. assistance to Ukraine and abolishing the Jackson-Vanik amendment that put curbs on U.S. trade with Ukraine. Weldon also proposed holding a U.S.-Ukrainian conference of missile-defense-system experts in Ukraine in order to map out possible areas of cooperation. JM
IS THE U.S. READY TO DEAL WITH KUCHMA?
In its 8-14 February edition, the Kyiv weekly "Zerkalo nedeli" reviewed the draft bill "On Social and Legal Guarantees for the President of Ukraine after the Termination of [Presidential] Powers" that was recently registered with the Verkhovna Rada by lawmaker Serhiy Kivalov, whom the weekly called a "man from the presidential entourage." Kivalov leads the Sea Party of Ukraine and is the rector of the Odesa State Juridical Academy.
The draft bill, which reportedly consists of nine articles, proposes that the state should provide retired presidents with a dacha, car, bodyguards, the right to medical treatment in governmental health-care facilities, and a monthly pension equal to 80 percent of the president's average monthly salary.
Article 7 of the draft, titled "The Right for Tax Amnesty," reportedly reads: "The president of Ukraine has the right to tax amnesty that will result in freeing the taxpayer from financial, administrative, and criminal responsibility for evading the payment of taxes and failing to declare incomes and hard-currency funds [and] movable and immovable property located both in Ukraine and outside its borders. The president of Ukraine...shall submit a declaration to the State Tax Administration of Ukraine with information about funds and objects of tax amnesty that will be taken as a taxation basis for calculating tax obligations for future periods. The information contained in the declaration of incomes subject to amnesty is state property [sic] and may not be made public." This article also stipulates that the tax amnesty does not extend to assets defined as illegal by the 1997 international convention on money laundering and that such an amnesty may be granted to the president only once.
"Zerkalo nedeli" commented that giving immunity to President Kuchma and his capital would not be a bad idea, as it would obviate the need for Kuchma to install a successor who would provide him with such immunity in the future. Thus, the weekly concluded, Ukraine would have a chance of holding a free and democratic presidential election. However, the weekly also quoted the results of a recent poll by the Oleksandr Razumkov Center for Political and Economic Studies, according to which more than 81 percent of respondents are against passing a law that would give Kuchma immunity from criminal prosecution after the conclusion of his presidential tenure.
It is noteworthy that Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko, who visited Washington in early February and met with U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and a number of U.S. congressmen, commented last week that the question of guarantees for Kuchma "cannot be sidestepped," according to the Our Ukraine press service. Yushchenko said the goal of such guarantees would be to "return Ukraine to a path of democratic development."
"Most likely, it is necessary to make a political decision on guarantees for the president in order to prevent the past from obscuring [our] attention to the future," Yushchenko said. "I agree that this topic is becoming more and more urgent. The general background on the eve of the presidential election [in 2004] is certainly comprehensible -- everybody on both sides is tired and waiting for changes."
The weekly "Grani," which is linked to the Socialist Party of Oleksandr Moroz, made more far-reaching conclusions on 17 February, suggesting that the issue of amnesty for Kuchma upon his departure -- not only with regard to his purportedly undeclared capital but also to other issues, including the scandal over Ukraine's alleged sale of a Kolchuga radar system to Iraq and the killing of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze -- might have been raised initially by Washington, which is reportedly interested in drawing Ukraine into an anti-Iraq coalition, especially in view of the current opposition of Germany, France, and Russia to a possible U.S. military action against Baghdad.
To support its conclusions, "Grani" pointed to the recent change of Kuchma's tone with regard to the Iraq problem. The weekly stressed that in a joint statement at a recent meeting, Kuchma and Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski both said they are going "to take specific measures to resolve the Iraq crisis." The weekly quoted Kuchma's statement last week about Ukraine's readiness to provide an antichemical-warfare unit for a possible United Nations-sanctioned mission "on the territory of countries neighboring Iraq."
"Grani" also noted that U.S. officials have recently fallen silent on the two issues that not so long ago seemed to be of utmost importance for Washington in its relations with Kyiv: the Kolchuga sale allegations and the investigation into the death of Gongadze. According to the weekly, a new geopolitical expediency has forced Washington to set these issues aside and seek "amnesty" for Kuchma for any unseemly deeds that he might have done or authorized.
It is also strange, "Grani" opined, that the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF) withdrew its call for international financial sanctions against Ukraine just two months after it was officially voiced. "Grani" said no serious measures could be taken by international financial institutions within this time to discover whether Ukrainian banks and individuals were actually involved in money-laundering operations, let alone to prevent them. The weekly suggested that the FATF withdrew its recommendation of sanctions against Ukraine under pressure from the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, which is reportedly seeking to repair relations with Kuchma in the face of the Iraq crisis.
"Grani" concluded its article on amnesty for Kuchma with a half-mocking and half-serious assertion that now, given this new turn in U.S. policies vis-a-vis Kuchma, the Ukrainian president will not need any legislative "amnesties" and guarantees of immunity because he can easily provide for such guarantees himself by arranging his re-election for a third term.