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BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT'S FORMER PROPERTY MANAGER SENTENCED TO FOUR YEARS. The Belarusian Supreme Court on 8 February sentenced Halina Zhuraukova, former head of the presidential administration's Property Management Department, to four years in prison, finding her guilty of large-scale embezzlement through abuse of office under Part 4 of Criminal Code Article 210, Belapan reported. Prosecutor Mikalay Korzun told journalists after the trial that he was satisfied with the verdict. Zhuraukova has reportedly repaid the misappropriated amount, $3.4 million, to the presidential administration. On 30 December, opposition politician Mikhail Marynich was sentenced to five years in prison on the same charge (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 4 January 2005). The court found him guilty of misappropriating several computers that the Business Initiative Association, of which he was chairman, had received from the U.S. Embassy in Minsk for temporary use. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT PLEDGES TO FORM COMPETITIVE MEDIA ENVIRONMENT... President Viktor Yushchenko told journalists in Zhytomyr on 8 February that the new Ukrainian government's policy will be oriented toward creating a competitive media environment in the country, Interfax reported. "We will not spare effort, time, or finances to create such an environment," Yushchenko said. The president said the government will support the recently announced project to create a "public television" channel in Ukraine, but he advised against the liquidation of the state-run UT-1 and UT-2 channels. "The main thing is that the project [of a public television channel] should not imply losing the first [UT-1] and second [UT-2] channels," Yushchenko said. "They should not become a sort of technical victims [of the public-television project]." JM

...AND SIGNALS READINESS FOR CAPITAL AMNESTY TO CUT SHADOW ECONOMY. President Yushchenko told journalists in Kyiv on 8 February that he is ready to legalize unofficial capital in order to reduce the shadow economy sector in Ukraine, Interfax reported. "We are ready to go for capital amnesty and fiscal amnesty, but in return we want to reduce the shadow economy," Yushchenko said. He said the government will do its best to make the national budget deficit-free and will revise its policy on free economic zones, which he described as "black holes" in the economy. JM

UKRAINE TO ANNOUNCE PULLOUT OF TROOPS FROM IRAQ 'IN THE NEAR FUTURE.' Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk told journalists in Kyiv on 8 February that the government will announce the pullout of the Ukrainian military contingent from Iraq "in the near future," Interfax reported. Tarasyuk added that President Yushchenko will consult Washington as well as the authorities in Baghdad before the pullout starts. "Ukraine's military presence [in Iraq] is gradually to be reduced and to be replaced with instructors, diplomats, and businessmen," Reuters quoted Tarasyuk as saying. "I plan to visit Iraq in order to examine the situation." JM

MOLDOVAN AUTHORITIES 'SUSPEND' TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS ON FOREIGN DIPLOMATS. The Moldovan Foreign Ministry on 8 February said it has "suspended" a decision it made last month requiring diplomats to obtain permits from the ministry to travel to Transdniester, Infotag, Flux, and AP reported. The ministry did not specify how long the "suspension" will be in effect. It said that the reversal is aimed at allowing international monitoring ahead of the 6 March parliamentary elections throughout Moldova. Russia and Ukraine protested the permit requirement after their representatives were twice prevented from traveling to Tiraspol (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 25 January, 3 February 2005). Meanwhile, Tiraspol on 8 February rejected the Moldovan Electoral Bureau's request that it organize voting in Transdniester for Moldova's 6 March parliamentary elections, in full compliance with the stipulations of the Moldovan Constitution and electoral legislation, Infotag reported. The separatists dismissed the call as a "transparent but badly staged provocation." MS


The approval of Yuliya Tymoshenko as independent Ukraine's 13th prime minister in the Verkhovna Rada on 4 February was a remarkable political show because of several big surprises for political analysts and commentators. As well as for Tymoshenko herself.

The first surprise was the level of support Tymoshenko in particular and her cabinet in general obtained among the parliamentarians. Her nomination was endorsed by 373 votes, that is, by virtually all parliamentary factions aside from the Communist Party. The cabinet's program was approved by the equally astonishing number of 357 deputies. Nobody had predicted that a Tymoshenko-led government would obtain such an enthusiastic backing.

Most notably, Tymoshenko was even supported by deputies from the parliamentary caucus of the Party of Regions headed by former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, President Viktor Yushchenko's embittered rival from the presidential race. What has become of Yanukovych's postelection pledge to switch to a "tough opposition" under the Yushchenko presidency?

Yosyp Vinskyy -- a leader of the Socialist Party, which joined the Yushchenko-Tymoshenko ruling coalition after reportedly tense, last-minute negotiations -- told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service on 4 February that the parliamentary support by erstwhile adherents of Yanukovych for the Tymoshenko cabinet testifies to their "complete moral downfall." Vinskyy suggested that this happened primarily because they represent in the legislature not so much the political programs or ideologies of their parties as the business interests of their leaders and sponsors.

"Business will not be in opposition, business will seek contacts with the new authorities, because our business sphere has been built on theft of state property and money," Vinskyy opined. "Evidently, they [dishonest businessmen] are now seeking contacts [with the new cabinet] in order to preserve [their possessions]." According to Vinskyy, the "disappearance" of the parliamentary opposition to the government, as testified by the 4 February approval vote, is a serious threat to the government itself, because such a situation weakens the public control over what the government does.

The second surprise was the composition of the cabinet. Taken as a whole, the cabinet is undoubtedly pro-reform and psychologically prepared to tackle the enormous task of revamping the authoritarian power system left by the 10-year rule of President Leonid Kuchma and reducing its endemic corruption. But some of Yushchenko's choices for the new cabinet have raised many eyebrows.

To start with, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, the staunchest political ally of Yushchenko's Our Ukraine during the Orange Revolution, seems to be underrepresented in the cabinet. Apart from Yuliya Tymoshenko, the cabinet includes only one other politician from her party: Oleksandr Turchynov as head of the Ukrainian Security Service. Under a political deal signed between Tymoshenko and Yushchenko in July on their cooperation in the 2004 presidential campaign, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc was to obtain 23 percent of the posts in the executive branch. Even given that the political weight of the premiership may be equal to several ministerial portfolios, the assignment of just two posts to the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc out of some two dozen major cabinet jobs seems to be quite unfair.

On the other hand, the Socialist Party, which threw its support behind Yushchenko's presidential bid only following the first round of the presidential election on 31 October, was rewarded by Yushchenko with three cabinet prizes: Oleksandr Baranivskyy will head the Ministry for Agricultural Policy, Yuriy Lutsenko the Interior Ministry, and Stanislav Nikolayenko the Education Ministry. And Valentyna Semenyuk from the Socialist Party is reportedly expecting Yushchenko's nomination to head the extremely important State Property Fund, a body responsible for privatizations. Such lavish rewards have been promised even though the Socialists criticized Yushchenko's program as "liberal" and publicly asserted that the program is at grave variance with their programmatic goal of building a "socialist" Ukraine.

Why has Yushchenko apparently favored the Socialist Party, whose support was not crucial for the approval of a new cabinet (the Socialists have just 22 deputies in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada), and seemingly slighted his closest political ally, whose potential success or failure in the post of prime minister is expected to have an enormous influence on the public perception of his presidency? One possible answer is that Yushchenko is afraid that the charismatic, strong-willed, and vigorous Tymoshenko could assume too much authority in the executive branch and begin playing a political game of her own.

For the time being, that is at least until the 2006 parliamentary elections, such a development appears to be purely speculation. But it is already clear that Tymoshenko will have problems in making a single-minded and unanimous team of partners out of her current deputies and ministers. An apparently big surprise, and a nasty one for her, was the last-minute nomination of Roman Bezsmertnyy as deputy prime minister for administrative reform. In presenting the list of new ministers to the parliament, Tymoshenko said this post would remain vacant for some time. But Yushchenko, who was simultaneously signing decrees on cabinet appointments, appointed Bezsmertnyy at the end of this ceremony, thus provoking a startled and somewhat distressed shudder from Tymoshenko.

Bezsmertnyy, once a staunch supporter of President Kuchma, switched to the Yushchenko camp in 2001 and was given much credit for managing Yushchenko's parliamentary campaign in 2002 and presidential campaign in 2004. He surely deserved a political prize from Yushchenko, but his appointment to the current cabinet seems to be an ill-advised choice. Following the designation of Tymoshenko as prime minister last month, Bezsmertnyy reportedly opined that Tymoshenko is a "political blackmailer" and said he will not join her cabinet even if asked by Yushchenko.

Simultaneously, Bezsmertnyy publicly suggested that Tymoshenko may "surrender" Yushchenko -- as she "surrendered," he added, his erstwhile political ally, former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko -- either before the 2006 parliamentary election or the 2009 presidential election in order to make her own presidential bid. "Tymoshenko should realize that there should always be people beside her who will not leave her in peace," the "Ukrayinska pravda" website quoted Bezsmertnyy as saying. Could this be the task Yushchenko has given Bezsmertnyy in the new cabinet?

However, in the short term it should be expected that the Yushchenko-Tymoshenko alliance will remain strong and mutually loyal. As Yushchenko said in his address to the Verkhovna Rada on 4 February, the public expectations as regards the performance of the new government are "colossal." Meeting some of these expectations will be a hard test for political survival not only for Yushchenko but also for Tymoshenko, irrespective of whether she intends to sail in the same boat with Yushchenko beyond the 2006 parliamentary election or take an independent course in order to try her luck as a candidate in the 2009 presidential ballot.