Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Ukraine confusion continues

Ukraine is planning on shifting its "philosophy of co-operation with the European Union", hinting that membership is the country's final aim following Yushchenko's victory in the re-run presidential elections.

Could all that noise about a Yushchenko victory meaning a shift to the West actually be true after all? Well, considering the election results haven't been confirmed yet (or even published - they will be appearing in Ukrainian papers tomorrow), it's a bit early to say.

It may depend on who is chosen as Prime Minister: "The contest has narrowed to three main candidates: Yulia Tymoshenko, the charming but fiery former "gas princess" who helped lead the Orange Revolution protests in November and December; Petro Poroshenko, the softly-spoken "chocolate prince" whose television channel brought the protests into the homes of millions of Ukrainians; and Olexander Zinchenko, Mr Yushchenko's campaign manager." (In case of Financial Times Subscriptions kicking in, I'll post the whole article in a comment - interesting stuff.)

However, the byword for freedom and truth that is Pravda today has a nice big headline: "Russian politician Grigori Yavlinsky to become Ukrainian prime minister". Not to worry, though, if you read the article this turns out to be largely spin, based on a report in The Russian Courier yesterday: "Yavlinsky, the newspaper wrote, has good chances to take the position because he is equally alienated from all political and economic clans of Ukraine."

In fact, despite being Russian Yavlinsky may not be too bad - he may even be an ideal choice to placate Putin. If he believes all the stuff he claims in this interview, the Russian could well work: "Freedom, human rights, and dignity. We will advocate independence of courts and legislative authorities, reduction of administrative clout with elections on all levels. We will speak against the merger of powers-that-be and businesses. It is this merger that resulted in the conflict between YUKOS and the regime. We will also advocate a political agreement but in the form of a law, not an accord. On the one hand, we will advocate an amnesty to capitals and fortunes made in the course of privatization in the 1990's. On the other, we want transparency of funding of political parties, establishment of a transparent political process, adoption of the law on lobbying within the framework of participation of major businesses in politics."

Either way, it seems as though Yushchenko and Putin will have a chance to chat in a week's time, so maybe they can get all friendly again. Although after this week's humiliating forced climb-down over pensions (which, though not significant in terms of cash for the old dears nonetheless shows Putin can be beat on home turf), Putin may not be in the mood to be friendly - he just ripped off Kazakhstan fairly effectively, pinching some prime gas fields in exchange for a bit of spare land.

So then - which way is Ukraine going to go - EU or Russia? Or will Yushchenko live up to expectations and manage to balance gracefully in between the two powers, getting the best of both worlds?

Once again, we'll have to wait and see...

1 Comments:

Blogger Nosemonkey said...

That FT article in full (a bit lengthy, sorry...):

Yushchenko faces early test of leadership
By Tom Warner
Published: January 18 2005 18:28 | Last updated: January 18 2005 18:28

Viktor Yushchenko looks set to become president of Ukraine on Saturday after the Supreme Court on Tuesday said that the election results could be published on Thursday.

Publication of the results, a key step in the handover of power, had been held up by an appeal against Mr Yushchenko's victory in last month's re-run presidential election, which his opponent, Viktor Yanukovich, insists was spoiled by fraud. But the court confirmed the embargo on publication would expire at midnight on Wednesday night regardless of whether it had dealt with the appeal.

Now the western-leaning president-elect faces the tough task of choosing a prime minister from among his closest allies. He tried last week to let the leaders of his "People Power" coalition decide who should get the job while he took a holiday outside Kiev.

But their meeting only ended in deadlock. Mr Yushchenko's tactics have provoked criticism that he is prevaricating.

The contest has narrowed to three main candidates: Yulia Tymoshenko, the charming but fiery former "gas princess" who helped lead the Orange Revolution protests in November and December; Petro Poroshenko, the softly-spoken "chocolate prince" whose television channel brought the protests into the homes of millions of Ukrainians; and Olexander Zinchenko, Mr Yushchenko's campaign manager.

Mr Zinchenko is a relatively recent recruit to the Yushchenko camp. He was previously head of the Inter television channel and a leading member of the Social Democratic Party, the grouping headed by Viktor Medvedchuk, president Leonid Kuchma's chief of staff.

Oleh Rybachuk, a leading Yushchenko aide, said that Mr Zinchenko could be a compromise candidate who could prevent a split between the "heavyweight" candidates, Ms Tymoshenko and Mr Poroshenko.

Ms Tymoshenko raised the stakes at the weekend by declaring that she expected Mr Yushchenko to choose her. But people close to the talks said Mr Poroshenko remained the front-runner.

Mr Poroshenko, the 39-year-old chairman of parliament's budget committee, lacks Ms Tymoshenko's personal popularity and has relatively little experience addressing the public. However, he commands broad respect among the members of Mr Yushchenko's Our Ukraine political movement and is seen to have proved himself as an effective manager as head of his own business empire.

Mr Poroshenko's Roshen confectionery company - Ukraine's largest - reported $274m (€210m, £147m) of sales last year. His business group also includes Mriya Bank, Channel 5 television, a car plant in Lutsk and a shipyard in Kiev.

Ms Tymoshenko says Mr Yushchenko promised her the prime minister's job when he sought her support before the elections. But while she says it would be "unprecedented" for such an agreement to be broken, Mr Poroshenko has appeared more cool, arguing that Mr Yushchenko's team is united as ever.

Ms Tymoshenko, 44, was previously head of United Energy Systems of Ukraine, a private gas trading company. The company became the country's biggest gas trader when, controversially, the government of then-prime minister Pavlo Lazarenko granted UESU a lucrative regional monopoly on supplies of gas to large areas of central and eastern Ukraine in 1996.

But Ms Tymoshenko lost the business after Mr Lazarenko was sacked in 1997. She entered politics as a supporter of Mr Lazarenko, but in 1999 she teamed up with Mr Yushchenko, who was named prime minister at the end of that year.Mr Yushchenko made her deputy prime minister and energy minister, a position in which she won support from western donors for her attacks on corruption.

However, Ukraine's president, Leonid Kuchma, saw Ms Tymoshenko as self- promoting and sacked her in early 2001. Soon afterwards, she was briefly jailed for alleged fraud in connection with her former gas-trading business, but re-emerged as leader of a centrist opposition bloc that won 7 per cent of the vote in 2002 parliamentary elections.

Ms Tymoshenko has been repeatedly accused of corruption in what she insists have been politically motivated attempts to repress a popular opposition leader.

Mr Poroshenko is untainted by accusations of corruption. But many of Mr Yushchenko's team fear such a prominent industrialist will find it difficult to put the interests o f the state above his own business interests. He says he has put his business interests into a trust, but questions have been raised about whether he has entirely separated himself from his commercial activities.

1/19/2005 10:48:00 am  

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