Ukraine’s path to a dictatorship

The writing has been on the wall for quite sometime since Yanukovych ‘won’ the elections in January:

The Kremlin’s influence in Ukraine is increasing rapidly. This is the impression one gets when visiting Ukraine after the election that brought pro-Russian politician Viktor Yanukovych to power.

The country’s assets are being sold, deliberately and steadily, to oligarchs in Moscow who back powerful Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Hypermarkets, sovereign economic facilities and even the very integrity of Ukraine are being marketed to Russia.

Opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko on Monday accused President Viktor Yanukovych of turning Ukraine into a dictatorship, raising tensions ahead of a planned protest rally next week:

Tymoshenko has called on her supporters to rally outside parliament on May 11, in acrucial test of her support amid growing controversy over the succession of deals Ukraine has agreed with Russia in the last weeks.

“They (the government) don’t consult with civil society, they don’t consult with the opposition, they are using force to intimidate,” Tymoshenko said in a statement.

“One of their methods is throwing people in jail. It is a true method of dictatorship, and Yanukovych is starting to use it today”, said Tymoshenko, who was defeated by Yanukovych in February’s presidential elections.

“The new authorities have started giving away our territories without any consultation with society,” Tymoshenko said.

“We… hope that your government will do what is necessary to ensure that journalists are able to work in the manner that is normal in a democratic country,” it said.

Amidst the fighting, Ukraine’s other large ethnic group goes mainly ignored:

Moscow and Kyiv in their accord have neglected to take into consideration “a very important player” – the national movement of the Crimean Tatars, whose leaders are considering how to proceed in the wake of the new base accord

From Russia, Putin tries to takeover Ukraine’s gas industry:

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s proposal was Russia’s boldest move yet and would allow Moscow to control its gas transit to Europe. Ukraine’s opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko said the deal was part of “a plan to destroy Ukraine.”

“It is not a merger based on partnership but Russia’s full acquisition of Ukraine,” Tymoshenko said in a statement posted on her party’s website. “The Crimea was just the beginning.”

The deal would at a stroke give Moscow control of the major gas pipelines which run through Ukraine to supply Europe, as well as a lockhold over Ukrainian domestic gas supplies.

It could have devastating consequences for Eastern Europe:

During meetings held last week, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin proposed an energy cooperation deal to Kyiv that could make Ukraine’s energy partnership with Europe problematic, Polish experts from the Center for Eastern studies in Warsaw conclude.

“Combining energy networks and the parallel operation of transmission systems would mean Ukraine withdrawing from its intentions to join the European networks within the Union for the Coordination of Transmission of Electricity (UCTE),” the report says.

Documents related to the deal indicate that Russia intends to ensure its participation in energy production and distribution, to restrict Ukraine’s opportunities to export energy, and to secure the long-term total dependence of Ukraine on Russian nuclear power—Russian reactors, Russian fuel, and Russia’s participation in uranium exploitation.

The draft of the agreement was released by several Ukrainian media outlets. Analysts say that by signing the deal, Russia will gain more influence in the Commonwealth of Independent States and in Eastern Europe through its use of economic pressure and military presence.

Owned by the state, Naftogaz is the exclusive importer of Russian gas into Ukraine and about 20 percent of the EU’s gas needs flow through its pipelines.

Naftogaz’s finances have crumbled as it buys gas from Russia at expensive prices and is then forced to sell it at subsidised prices to Ukrainian consumers.

Meanwhile Ukraine’s national heroes are being further desecrated:

A small memorial to the World War II-era Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) in the western town of Storozhynets has been vandalized, RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service reports.

Ukraine’s Interior Ministry in Chernivtsy Oblast, where Storozhynets is located, said on April 30 it was likely the memorial was damaged on April 26. The Bloc of Bukovyna’s National Forces — an organization that unites the region’s nationalist groups — issued a statement demanding the authorities “find and severely punish the vandals.”

There are still quite some worries from this ‘gas-for-fleet’ deal:

Concern was also expressed within the country and abroad that the gas concessions are for the benefit of a small number of rich industrialists and will not significantly help the country. They are in fact an impediment to the inevitable task of reducing Ukraine’s wildly inefficient energy consumption. Over the next few days information was also received about agreements for cooperation with Russia in a number of areas, including nuclear energy.

What’s still unclear are the many unforseen circumstances from this deal:

Russia is talking of buying new warships from France, but Ukraine did not seem to have clarified exactly which vessels Russia would have the right to base in Sevastopol.

Is this ‘balancing’ in Ukraine’s best interests?

Several Russian lawmakers exacerbated those concerns Tuesday during discussion of the fleet agreement in Moscow. They said it will help protect Russia’s cultural and linguistic presence in Ukraine.

he broke ranks with other leaders, saying the Ukrainian people did not want the deal to be discussed behind closed doors. Opponents prefer membership in the European Union, saying it would lift Ukraine economically and better protect its culture.

Vitaliy Bala notes Mr. Yanukovych won office with less than 50 percent of the vote and uses foreign policy to legitimize his presidency.

A deal that who’s ratification was very sketchy to say the least:

Another National Deputy from the same Party of the Regions, Serhiy Kivalov, who is one of Ukraine’s representatives on the European Committee for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) remained in Strasbourg to hear the President’s address. He too saw fit to breach Ukraine’s Constitution and allow himself to be registered and “vote” in his absence.

Neither Mr Kivalov nor Mr Holovaty have sought to have their votes annulled despite the fact that the media openly report their unlawful vote in absentia.  Nor are they the only Deputies whose cards so to speak voted for them. There were 211 Deputies registered half an hour before the vote took place, yet 236 Deputies are supposed to have voted for ratification (226 were required).

The arguments used by members of the ruling coalition and the Constitutional Court to allow individual Deputies to leave the party they were voted in as members of and help other parties form a coalition included prohibition of imperative mandate and insistence on each Deputy’s right to choice. It is therefore interesting to note how a representative of the Party of the Regions, Oleksandr Yefremov, is reported as explaining the situation where cards voted without their owners. “He admitted that many deputies had physically been unable to vote however within the coalition the principle was accepted that its members vote according to the decision of the leaders of the factions”.

Freedom of speech is quickly eroding after seeing life in the Orange Revolution:

Reporters Without Borders would like to draw your attention to the erosion of the right to information in your country in recent months as a result of arrests and intimidation of journalists working for both traditional and online media.

This aim of this behaviour by police officers abusing their authority appears to have been to scare journalists and pressure them into censoring themselves. Reporters Without Borders is particularly concerned by the fact that the police are beginning to target online journalists.

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