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PUTIN AND YUSHCHENKO HOLD FIRST MEETING SINCE KREMLIN'S ELECTION SNUB... In their first Kremlin meeting, President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yushchenko sought to soothe the tension caused by Putin's partisan support in the Ukrainian presidential election for Yushchenko's main challenger, former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, Russian and Western media reported. Yushchenko said after talks with Putin that it isn't important to him how "it was 30 days ago, but how it will be in the next five years," RTR reported. Yushchenko said Russia is Ukraine's "eternal strategic partner" and that he wants to make bilateral relations "better, easy, and transparent." He added that he discussed many issues with Putin, including the transit of Russian oil and gas, the problem of the Black See Fleet, and the free movement of people and capital across their border. Yushchenko said that Ukraine would be interested in participating in the Single Economic Space insofar as "it corresponds to its national interests and does not obstruct [Ukraine] moving toward other markets." During his meeting with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Aleksii II, Yushchenko declined a request to support the Orthodox Church in its disputes with other confessions, NTV reported. "It is not my business to intervene," Yushchenko said. VY
...AS PUTIN EXPLAINS HIS AFFRONT TO YUSHCHENKO DURING ELECTION. President Putin said that his attitude toward Yushchenko was motivated by his good relations with the former Ukrainian leadership, RTR and NTV reported. "Russia never works behind the scenes with the opposition in post-Soviet space, only with the acting government and this completely relates to [the situation in] Ukraine. We have done what we were asked [to do] by the leadership [of President Leonid Kuchma]," Putin noted. "We hope that we will have the same trustful relations with you as well. We always say and now confirm that we will work with the leader elected by the Ukrainian people," Putin added. Asked about the nomination of Yuliya Tymoshenko as Ukrainian premier, Putin said that it is up to the Ukrainian citizens to judge their prime minister. "President Yushchenko briefed me about it...and I am thankful to him for that," Putin said. The Russian Military Prosecutors Office opened a criminal case against Tymoshenko last September and issued, through Interpol, an international warrant against her (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 24 September and 8 and 9 December, 2004). VY
EXPERTS EVALUATE NEW UKRAINIAN-RUSSIAN RELATIONSHIP. Vyacheslav Nikonov, the president of Politika foundation, told TV-Tsentr on 24 January that Yushchenko made his first trip to Moscow for pragmatic considerations. First he would like to pacify the Russian-speaking southern and eastern parts of Ukraine which voted for his main opponent, Viktor Yanukovych. Second, economic ties with Russia are a top priority for Yushchenko, as up to 60 percent of Ukraine's foreign trade is with Russia. Therefore, Russia is a big factor in Ukrainian economic growth, Nikonov said. In the same vein, the appointments of Tymoshenko as premier, Petro Poroshenko as head of the Ukrainian National Security Council, and Oleksander Zinchenko as Ukrainian state secretary are also for economic reasons, as all three are key businesspeople who have personal business interests in Russia, Nikonov concluded. VY
Skepticism -- or even cynicism -- has been a common reaction in Russia to the recent Orange Revolution in neighboring Ukraine, and the pensioners' protests that have shut down streets in dozens of Russian cities over the past month are eliciting much the same reaction -- at least within Russian officialdom.
During the Kyiv protests, many Russian policymakers and pundits voiced the belief that the West, specifically the CIA and/or the Soros Foundation, orchestrated the appearance of thousands of people on the streets of the Ukrainian capital. Now, the pensioners' protests are likewise seen not as a spontaneous expression of dissatisfaction but rather as a series of "provocations" organized by political opportunists.
In an interview with "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 17 January, acting Moscow Oblast Governor Aleksei Panteleev suggested that provocateurs were behind the recent protests. "Forces -- for whom their main concern is not the protection of their fellow citizens' interests but their own political [public relations] -- often exploit the mood of protestors, or sometimes [their motivation] is even worse: a provocative desire 'to rock the boat' in a city or raion," Panteleev said. He added that he has held meetings with a number of political organizations active in the oblast and that the "extremists" were "warned not to indulge in provocations or they would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law." According to Panteleev, who was filling in for the vacationing Governor Boris Gromov, "[Our] law enforcement organs have videotapes of all those people younger than pension age who are traveling back and forth from city to city, inciting the population to close streets and engage in other violations of the law. They have been detained in accordance with the law." Earlier, Governor Gromov declared that it is not "the pensioners who are guilty, but the provocateurs."
In St. Petersburg, Governor Valentina Matvienko appeared to have been given the same set of talking points. She told reporters on 17 January that "St Petersburg's law and order agencies will take strict measures against people who provoke pensioners to carry out illegal actions," ITAR-TASS reported. "I want to give assurances that no force will be used against people attending rallies," she told reporters. "However, there are those who are making use of this situation to reap false political dividends." According to gazeta.ru on 18 January and "Kommersant-Daily" on 19 January, Matvienko ordered local police to arrest only young people and ignore elderly demonstrators. Representatives of the city prosecutor's office quoted by lenta.ru on 19 January appeared to follow that distinction between youthful organizers and old participants by saying that administrative cases are being brought only "against the organizers of the actions, not the participants, the majority of whom are pensioners."
In St. Petersburg, police detained eight people on 18 January for organizing unsanctioned meetings. In a program aired on 20 January, Maksim Reznik, chairman of the St. Petersburg branch of Yabloko, told RFE/RL's St. Petersburg bureau that police targeted not only young people but also older citizens, and not only individuals known to have connections with existing political organizations but also people who assumed any kind of organizational role in the protests. For example, the police picked up 67-year-old pensioner Galina Tolmacheva, who was not associated with any political structure but had telephoned some 600 people asking them to participate in an unauthorized protest in front of St. Petersburg's mayoral offices. She has alleged that she was beaten by policemen at the police station until she lost consciousness.
On 19 January, Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin jumped on the provocateur-theory bandwagon, telling reporters in Moscow that the protesting pensioners "have organizers, and highly skilled ones at that," ITAR-TASS reported. According to Kudrin, the Communist Party (KPRF) and National Bolshevik Party created schedules for blocking roads that have appeared on the Internet. In Samara, the oblast prosecutor Aleksandr Yefremov claimed that his office had information that the National Bolshevik Party was among the main organizers of rallies in the oblast capital of Samara, Ekho Moskvy reported on 12 January. However, later that day, National Bolshevik Party leader Eduard Limonov told the station that this was news to him, although he would be delighted if it turned out to be the case. Oleg Kulikov, secretary of the KPRF's central committee, did take credit for the protests in Samara in an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 13 January. He said the KPRF encouraged hundreds of protestors to block the streets of Samara and that it also played a role in organizing the large protests in Ufa.
Despite Kulikov's claims, some news reports suggest that the Communist Party is responding to events rather than leading them. After all, the party did fail last July in its bid to launch a nationwide protest against the social benefits reform. "Moskovskii komsomolets" charged on 18 January that the KPRF Central Committee appears to "have been caught off guard by events." According to the daily, in some regions, pensioners are carrying Communist Party banners but this is thanks only to the initiative of the local KPRF organizers. The daily reported that when Communists from Izhevsk in Udmurtia telephoned the Central Committee with questions regarding organizing a protest in Udmurtia, they received no clear instructions.
Rather than organizing events, the Communist Party might be trying to gain political capital from the protests after the fact. Ekho Moskvy reported from St. Petersburg on 15 January that leaders of the Communist Workers' Party and members of the National Bolshevik Party showed up at the rally that day long after it had already started. In an interview with "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 18 January, 64-year-old Olga Fedorova, who is facing administrative proceedings regarding her role in Khimki protests held in Moscow Oblast, said that "all the talk about 'young instigators' is rubbish."
Fedorova said she telephoned some of her acquaintances about the 10 January meeting at the Leningrad Highway and didn't expect more than 20 people to be there. According to police records, around 2,000 people took part. When she arrived with a megaphone in hand, people approached her asking if she was in charge; but she arrived after the highway was blocked. The police picked her up the next day in the hallway of her apartment building. She denied having been at the demonstration, but the police told her that they had her image on film. According to the daily, Fedorova supports Viktor Anpilov's Working Russia Party, but her motivation to protest was more personal than political. With a 1,500 ruble ($54) monthly pension, she could no longer afford her daily visits to relatives in the city of Moscow. She commented at the end of her interview with the daily, "It would be strange if people with a 1,500-ruble-a-month pension didn't protest."
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT NAMES HIS PRIME MINISTER... President Viktor Yushchenko on 24 January named his political ally Yuliya Tymoshenko, head of the eponymous bloc, as the country's acting prime minister, Ukrainian and international media reported. Tymoshenko's nomination must still be approved by at least 226 deputies in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada. Tymoshenko served in the cabinet of Viktor Yushchenko in 2000 as deputy prime minister for energy and fuel issues. She was fired as deputy prime minister in early 2001 by then President Leonid Kuchma on charges of forgery and gas smuggling in the 1990s and spent a month in a detention center. A court cleared her but prosecutors have been continuing to investigate her case. JM
...MAKES TWO MORE APPOINTMENTS... President Yushchenko on 24 January abolished the presidential administration and replaced it with a secretariat of the Ukrainian president, Ukrainian and international media reported. Simultaneously, Yushchenko appointed Oleksandr Zinchenko, manager of his election campaign, as state secretary to head the presidential secretariat. Also the same day, Yushchenko appointed lawmaker and businessman Petro Poroshenko, head of the Solidarity Party in the Our Ukraine bloc, as secretary of the National Security and Defense Council (RNBO). The RNBO is a constitutional body for coordinating national-security and defense policies. The RNBO is chaired by the president of Ukraine and obligatorily includes the prime minister, the defense minister, the interior minister, the foreign minister, and the head of the Security Service of Ukraine. RNBO decisions are put into effect by presidential decrees. JM
...AND PROMISES GOVERNMENT JOBS FOR TWO OTHER MAJOR ALLIES. President Yushchenko said at a news conference in Moscow on 24 January that Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz and Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs head Anatoliy Kinakh, who pledged their support for him following the first presidential election round on 31 October, will be rewarded with posts in Ukraine's government and "other power bodies," Interfax reported. "We have come to an agreement in consultations with them, and you will soon [see this agreement reflected] in my personnel decrees," Yushchenko said. JM
EU COURTS UKRAINE WITH UPDATED ACTION PLAN. EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana and External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner have drawn up a 10-point addendum to the three-year EU-Ukraine Action Plan, taking account of pressure to respond to Ukraine's elevated expectations in the wake of the Ukrainian presidential election, an RFE/RL correspondent in Brussels reported on 24 January. Ferrero-Waldner's spokeswoman Emma Udwin said the chief additions to the action plan include offering Ukraine market-economy status and stating clearly that upgrading the current Partnership and Cooperation Treaty with Ukraine is possible in the long run. However, Udwin emphasized that the added list does not amount to a full review of the action plan, which already includes plans for making it easier for Ukrainians to obtain visas. Solana told the European Parliament on 24 January that a new type of agreement with Ukraine will be put in place in early 2008. Meanwhile, Ferrero-Waldner told the European Parliament on 25 January that the European Union should not rush into "premature steps" to bring Ukraine into the 25-member bloc, Reuters reported. "Let us be realistic: a lot has to be done by Ukraine," she added. JM
RUSSIA, UKRAINE REBUFF MOLDOVA OVER PREVENTING AMBASSADORS' VISIT TO TIRASPOL. The Russian Foreign Ministry said on 24 January that the 20 January incident in which the Russian and Ukrainian ambassadors to Moldova were forced by the Moldovan authorities to interrupt their journey to Tiraspol is "contrary to the interest of peace and stability in the region" and evidence of "unfriendly" behavior, Infotag reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2005). The Russian ministry said the "practice of blockading and artificially isolating Transdniester...is counterproductive and leads to unjustified delays in solving important issues in relations between Chisinau and Tiraspol." The ministry said it has summoned the Moldovan charge d'affairs in Moscow and demanded an explanation. In turn, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said on 24 January that the travel restrictions imposed by Moldova on diplomats impede the Russian and Ukrainian effectiveness in resolving the Transdniester conflict. MS