People First: The latest in the watch on Ukrainian democracy

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Dec. 21, 2011, 2:08 p.m. | Op-ed — by Viktor Tkachuk
As the European People’s Party and international observers offer condemnation over corruption and violations of human rights, Ukraine’s attention is focused on the issue of Russian gas. European People's Party takes a firm stand

An emergency resolution on Ukraine recently adopted by the European People’s Party Congress has highlighted the personal responsibility of President Viktor Yanukovych for fulfilling the promises he has given in terms of observance of human rights and rule of law. The resolution expresses concern over the rollback of democratic freedoms, selective justice and examples of political revenge going on in Ukraine.

The largest member party of the European Parliament has sent Ukrainian leaders a clear message: that if official Kyiv returns to democracy the association agreement, which was not signed on Dec. 19 as scheduled, will enter into force next year.

Otherwise EPP will push the conclusion of the agreement into the latter half of 2012, or further if required. The EPP resolution to Ukraine states that Europe will not view any future elections in Ukraine as free and fair unless Tymoshenko and ex-Interior Ministery Yuriy Lutsenko are released and allowed to participate.

Daughter of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, Eugenia Carr, addressed the plenary session of the EPP Congress, inviting everyone to contribute to Ukraine’s European integration and demand increased transparency throughout the Ukrainian court system.

She also requested that EPP delegates foster the democratization of the current Ukrainian political regime and judiciary.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, leader of the Front Zmin political party, who had also been invited to the Congress, mentioned that the Ukraine-European Union Summit and the ratification of the association agreement are crucial to Ukraine’s future.

In his opinion Ukraine and the EPP have mutual interests in releasing Tymoshenko and Lutsenko and establishing democratic practices and values in Ukraine.

People First Comment: Political leadership in the world today seems to be polarizing around those that ‘walk the talk’ and those that simply ‘talk the talk’. In the first category we would have to include German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Russian Prime Minister Vladimr Putin.

We may not agree with what they say but at least they have the courage, conviction and determination to say it. Then we have the second category that includes, sadly, our own president, who appears to only say what he thinks the rest of the world wants to hear but without any intention of putting it into practice.

There was a time when the private discussions between political leaders were confidential; it was an unwritten rule of diplomacy that was based on mutual trust and mutual respect. But trust and respect are not automatically granted, they need to be earned through plausible action, something all of the above have singularly failed to do.

When Tymoshenko was jailed the international communitywere told that it was part of the president’s anti-corruption drive… Corruption has increased more under this government than at any time since independence. The international community were told that there were an additional 400 cross party cases including a case against the former President that the prosecutors would be making public, but since then - nothing but silence. The international community were told that all future elections would be free and fair yet the new election law says exactly the opposite. It is therefore little wonder that our illustrious authorities from the top down are held in such international distain after all this is precisely the image they have cultivated for themselves.

Will Russian gas dictate Ukraine’s future?

Ukraine's dependence on Russian energy sources, particularly gas, is increasing. Thus the gas issue once again top of the political and economic agenda in Ukraine. The government has even postponed the adoption of the 2012 state budget until new prices for Russian gas are secured. Commenting on the issue in late November Yanukovych claimed that Ukraine will sign new gas agreements with Russia, invalidating the current ones which are allegedly "unfair to Ukraine."

Earlier, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov mentioned that new gas agreements would be signed by the end of the autumn, allowing Ukraine to save up to $6 billion in 2012. Official sources suggest $230-240 per cubic meter of gas is a fair price range for the year to come.

A success in Ukrainian-Russian negotiations over gas will greatly depend on the results of the Ukraine-EU Summit in December. If the association agreement and free trade area were to be initialled immediately, Russia may well increase pressure on Ukraine by postponing negotiations over gas until the beginning of 2012.

This November, Ukraine purchased Russian gas at a price of $400 per cubic meter, compared with only $264 early this year. It is also worth mentioning that, as of November, Naftogaz Ukrainye has conducted all calculations in Russian rubles. In November it paid Gazprom $210 million and 7.2 billion rubles.

Many Ukrainian experts and politicians claim that in order to achieve concessions in a new gas agreement with Russia, the Ukrainian authorities will likely have to give up valuable Ukrainian assets. Taras Chornovil, the first deputy head of the Rada Committee on Foreign Affairs, believes that Russia desires control over the Odessa Port Plant and Ukrainian railway monopolist Ukrzaliznytsya in return for reduced gas prices.

Other experts suggest that Ukraine might hand Russia control over the Ukrainian gas pipeline network and gas reserves. Whatever happens, gas is likely to remain on a key issue on the political agenda in Ukraine into the next year.

People First Comment: There is one trait of the Russian psychology that has to be greatly respected and that is whilst they may be some of the toughest negotiators in the world, once the deal it done it is, to all intent, set in stone. The former Soviet government were the most reliable of all as all through the cold war they continued to supply gas to Europe and never once used it as the tactical weapon it could easily have become. The same is true of today. All Putin wants are long-term reliable contracts upon which he and his team can build their economic model. Russia is overly reliant on energy which accounts for 68% of its income. As Europe and China diversify their sources of supply balancing the books in Russia is becoming increasingly difficult.

Ukraine accounts for some 26 percent of Russia’s combined energy export earnings and as any accountant will tell you trying to balance the budget when you have no idea of the real value of 26 percent of your income is virtually impossible. Every time Ukraine gets a new president or prime minister they all trot off to Moscow to do a better deal… For some strange reason they all come back with a worse deal that costs the country more and this new round of discussions will be no different.

Russia may well agree to a price for gas of around $250 per thousand cubic metets but at what price to Ukraine… the gas transit system, all the offshore drilling rights to the Black Sea shelf, control of the Uranium and Manganese deposits, the railway network… Just where will it end. Ukraine may have gained it’s political independence back in 1991 but its economic independence is being frittered away by self serving politicians whose only objective is their own slice of the pie.

Violation of human rights

Thomas Hammarberg, commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe, stated during his visit to Ukraine in November that the overuse of detention pending trial is a huge problem in Ukraine. He mentioned the arrests of Tymoshenko, Lutsenko and former first deputy defense minister Valeriy Ivashchenko as examples.

Hammarberg put special emphasis on the dominant role of the prosecutor’s office in the Ukrainian system of justice. The number of
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