Sad state of Ukraine

Here are the latest happenings in the country, under the Russia-friendly Yanukovych government

The presidents of Ukraine and Russia, Viktor Yanukovych and Dmitry Medvedev, have laid wreaths before the Eternal Flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Kyiv Park of Glory. The ceremony took place amid heavy rain and hail.

Then, from the Eternal Flame, the presidents went on to the Memorial to the Holodomor Victims, where they also laid wreaths and lit oil lamps to commemorate the victims of Ukraine’s famine of 1930’s.

Yanukovych had some troubles at the ceremony – an eerie premonition from the country’s consciousness perhaps: ‘Stop selling out Ukraine’s national interests to Moscow’ or ‘Proclaim that the Holodomor was in fact genocide’

As of Tuesday afternoon, only three Ukrainian channels have aired this:, and
Reuters reportedly complied with the Yanukovych admin’s request to keep the embarrassing footage in the closet. [Ukrainiana]


Political persecution of opposition

Mrs Tymoshenko, who lost to President Viktor Yanukovich in a bitterly-fought election in February, immediately accused her old foe of conducting "open, undisguised repression" to silence her as an opposition force.

The prosecutor’s main investigation section said Mrs Tymoshenko had been called in on Wednesday and formally told that the case, which had been prematurely halted in January 2005 without a proper investigation, had been reopened.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is paying an official visit to the ex-Soviet republic on May 17-18 and Mrs Tymoshenko’s BYuT bloc says it will organise protests if any more agreements are signed which it deems against the national interests.

As she left the prosecutor’s office, Mrs Tymoshenko told journalists she had been summoned to see investigators again on May 17 and she linked the move to Mr Medvedev’s visit.

"Yanukovich wants to demonstrate how he deals with the opposition," she said.

"Once again it shows he is … simply a puppet, ready to do whatever is required to humiliate and bleed Ukraine of its life’s blood.

"Yanukovich is now hauling out old cases which will lead nowhere. He is creating open, undisguised repression," she said.


Russia Plans to Open New Military Bases in Ukraine

Russia plans to reinforce Black Sea fleet in Ukraine and open new military bases in response to NATO expansion to the East, edition Nezavisimaia Gazeta informs about it.
Submarine base acting in Soviet Union in Balaklava will be restored first of all. Museum belonging to Ukraine’s military – marine forces runs on the territory of the base now.
Ukraine may give its consent on opening military bases in the mouth of Nikolaev, Odessa and Dunai.
Commander of Russian Black Sea Fleet Aleksandre Kletskov states that the government is working on not only modernization of the fleet but on plans of equipping Russian militants in Sevastopol and Crimea. Black Sea Fleet modernization plan is calculated till 2020.


Dreams of EU, NATO integration crushed

Ukraine’s representative to the European Union Andriy Veselovsky and head of the Ukrainian mission to NATO Ihor Sahach have been dismissed from their posts.
The relevant decrees were signed by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych on Wednesday, the president’s press service reported.
The documents do not state why the two were dismissed.


No more protests – depending who you cheer for 

Hundreds of supporters of President Viktor Yanukovich threw a cordon around the Ukrainian parliament today as opposition politicians and demonstrators angrily accused the leadership of selling out the country to Russia.


Several hundred members of the pro-Yanukovich Regions Party today formed a barrier to the entrance to the parliament building, while police kept back about 3,000 supporters of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko from drawing near.


Censorship in Ukraine’s media

A European media rights watchdog says it is concerned about pressures on journalists working for Ukraine’s TV channels and is urging authorities to respect media freedom.

"We are concerned by these developments which threaten to reverse major steps we saw in past years toward democracy, partly thanks to press freedom, said Arne Konig, President of the Brussels-based European Federation of Journalists, in a statement Tuesday.

Last week, journalists from Ukraine’s two major private TV channels complained about censorship by authorities.

Last month, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said the ex-Soviet nation has seen a return of intimidation and physical attacks on journalists and abuse of authority directed at the media since the election of its new, Russia-friendly president earlier this year.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych said on Thursday he would not allow any restrictions on freedom of expression in the country.

Moscow hopes for improved relations with Ukraine in the media sphere as a result of improving bilateral ties,  Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday.


Yushchenko’s government reduced the presence of Russian television channels in Ukraine by banning several Russian channels in 2008 for not broadcasting in the Ukrainian language.


Lavrov said the issue of expanding Russian media to other countries in the CIS calls for a comprehensive approach, based on conserving a common media space.

The release of the first unified Russian-Ukrainian textbook for history teachers is planned for the end of 2010, the Ukrainian education minister said at a RIA Novosti video link-up on Thursday.


Russia and Ukraine differ in their interpretation of the 1930s famine in Ukraine. Ukrainian nationalists say Russia, as the legal successor of the Soviet Union, should bear responsibility for the famine in which more than 3 million people perished.


He (Yanukovych) said the current authorities do not share the plans of the previous administration to make heroes of figures such as nationalist Stepan Bandera, a Nazi collaborator popular in the west of the country.

 For Ukrainians who want independent and fair TV news coverage, experts say the choices have dwindled to two options: Channel 5 and TVi.


TVi’s owner, exiled Russian businessman Konstantin Kagalovsky, claims his channel is being unfairly stripped of frequencies by the State Committee on Television and Radio.
"Information airwaves have narrowed for the opposition. Censorship is re-emerging, and the opposition is not getting covered as much.”

So what about the rest?

One by one, they have fallen victim to the political interests of their owners, state censorship or old-fashioned journalistic self-censorship out of fear of running afoul of President Viktor Yanukovych’s administration.


Russian Payback – the neo Soviet Union

While it would be a stretch to say that Russia was the sole architect and puppet master of Ukraine’s February presidential election and Kyrgyzstan’s messy coup in April, the country certainly played a key role. It sheltered and supported Kyrgyz opposition leaders and made it clear to Ukrainian voters that a victory for Viktor Yanukovych would usher in a new era of cheap gas and increased trade. Moreover, this year’s strategic victories have inspired the Kremlin to encourage further regime change in what Russians still call their "near abroad."

Medvedev, on his first state visit to Ukraine, said he would welcome the former Soviet republic into the Russian-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO).

"If in the future you would consider it proper to join the CSTO, we would be happy to accept you," Medvedev said in Kiev. "The CSTO is not the Warsaw Pact… we do not need confrontation with NATO or other military blocs."

The Kremlin leader sought to draw Russia’s ex-Soviet neighbor closer to Moscow’s vision of European security on the last day of a visit in which the two sides have agreed to renew long-term cooperation after five years of cold relations.


In a bid to shore up Yanukovich at home, Medvedev defended the fleet’s presence in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol as a guarantee of stability in the region.

"Will Russia use its Black Sea fleet to attack neighboring states? No, it will not," he told a gathering of university students in Kiev.

He made no mention of the deployment of the fleet’s flagship, the rocket cruiser Moskva, to blockade the Georgian port of Poti in 2008 during Russia’s brief summer war with Georgia.

Yanukovich has endeared himself to Moscow by pushing possible membership of NATO — pursued by his predecessor — off the agenda, but during Medvedev’s two-day visit, he stressed Ukraine’s neutral status as a "non-bloc state."

The Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada has upheld President Viktor Yanukovich’s decision to admit foreign servicemen to Ukraine in 2010 for taking part in multinational exercises.


Ukraine will train together with NATO and neighbors, among them Russia, Belarus and Moldova.

The Party of Regions and the Communist Party opposed such exercises in the past. Party of Regions faction leader Alexander Yefremov explained the changed position with the need for training Ukrainian servicemen.


Russia is exploiting U.S. and European inattention to reassert its influence in the former Soviet republics, spending more than $50 billion to turn the “near abroad” into an engine of economic and political power.

Initiatives include Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s proposal to unify Ukraine’s state energy company with Moscow- based OAO Gazprom, discussed during talks this week in Kiev. Russia also cut gas prices to Ukraine to secure a naval base there, formed a customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan and pledged 75 percent of a $10 billion regional fund to help countries including Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Russia aims to restore its leadership of a region with about 276 million people that produces 26 percent of the world’s gas and almost 16 percent of its oil, says analyst Sergei Mikheev. That would help Russia keep pace with the other BRIC countries — Brazil, India and China — and blunt EU and NATO expansion in an area it views as its sphere of influence.


The EU, which gets 20 percent of its gas from pipelines running through Ukraine, declined to comment on the Russia- Ukraine proposal. Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said the deal was up to the two companies.


the U.S. and EU refrained from speaking out during April’s Kyrgyz revolution, in which President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was toppled by an interim administration that secured $50 million in aid from Russia. Bakiyev’s collapse was caused by corruption and failure to ensure economic development, Medvedev said April 15.

Former Ukrainian prime minister and current opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko warned on Saturday that Ukraine may lose the Tuzla island in the Kerch Strait at the border with Russia as a result of forthcoming talks between the Russian and Ukrainian presidents.


"As early as during the next visit [by the Russian president], discussions and decisions are expected to take place on one more territorial problem between Russia and Ukraine — the Kerch Strait, where Ukraine has an outlet to the Sea of Azov, where Ukraine has a possibility to develop strategic offshore oil and gas deposits," Tymoshenko said in a live broadcast on the Ukrainian Inter television channel.

"What is to be agreed and signed now — it means that we practically lose the Tuzla island. This is a question of a real territorial loss," the opposition leader said.

Medvedev signed a raft of agreements with President Viktor Yanukovych at the start of a two-day visit to Ukraine, including on border demarcation, aerospace, interbank cooperation and cooperation between intelligence services.

But difficulties were expected in talks on natural gas after Kiev’s cool reception of a proposal by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to merge Gazprom and Naftogaz, the countries’ main state energy holdings.


Gas-for-fleet was certainly no deal

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev says his nation won’t scrap prospective pipeline routes bypassing Ukraine, but is ready to discuss other energy projects with the new Ukrainian leadership.

Medvedev told a Russian-Ukrainian business forum Tuesday that Russia’s state-controlled natural gas monopoly Gazprom and Ukraine’s Naftogaz company will continue talks on prospective means of cooperation.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has recently offered to merge Gazprom and Naftogaz. The proposal has drawn criticism from the Ukrainian opposition, which sees it as an attempt by Moscow to wrest control over a sprawling network of gas pipelines carrying Russian natural gas to Europe.


About 80 percent of Russia’s gas exports to Europe are delivered by Ukrainian pipelines. Gazprom twice in the past four years cut supplies to Ukraine because of pricing disputes.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych said he was not concerned about the South Stream pipeline project, designed to pump Russian gas to Europe bypassing Ukraine, Russian media has said.

The South Stream pipeline will pump 63 billion cubic meters of Russian natural gas annually to Bulgaria, Italy and Austria and is part of Russia’s efforts to cut dependence on transit nations, particularly Ukraine and Turkey.