Thursday, June 29, 2006

Kazakh Leader's son-in-law New Oil Mogul

On Tuesday, Timur Kulibayev, Kazakh leader Nazarbayev's son-in-law, was elected chairman of the country's state oil and gas company, Kazmunaigas, Reuters reports. This strengthens the tendency towards increasing control of key positions in Kazakh society by the Nazarbayev family.

As is already the case, the Nazarbayev family exercises a disproportionate influence over Kazakhstan. Only last week, news came that Kulibayev's wife and presidential daughter, Dinara, is a large indirect owner of Halyk Bank, the country's third largest bank. Another daughter, Dariga, is a party leader and an MP, whereas her husband, Rakhat Aliyev, serves as deputy foreign minister.

The 65-year-old Nazarbayev is Kazakhstan's leader since 1989. During his reign, he has often been accused of nepotism and it is quite obvious that he deliberately places family members on central posts in government and business to gradually exert greater control over Kazakhstan.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Uzbekistan: Video of the Andijon Uprising

Last week, New York Times reported about video recordings from the events leading up to the 2005 Andijon massacre. The tapes were confiscated by Uzbek authorities after the massacre and have been used as evidence and propaganda by the Karimov regime. However, they may be interpreted in various ways, and cast considerable doubts on the Uzbek version of events. This comes as no surprise as the official Uzbek story has been twarted from the very outset. However, the tapes also give a much more complex picture of developments in Andijon prior to the massacre than has previously been the case.

In May 2005, public protests against a number of arrests in Uzbek city of Andijon led to a massive jail-brake. Protests were sparked by a trial of 23 local businessmen charged with involvement in Islamic extremism. On 12 May, an armed crowd stormed the local prison and prisoners were released, including also heavy criminals. By then, public disconent had peaked and people flooded the streets in massive demonstrations against the Karimov regime, which were to be know as the Andijon uprising. On 13-14 May, demonstrations were brutally quashed, and as many as 750 people - mainly civilians - were killed, although Uzbek officials have put the death toll at a mere 169. Thus far, accounts more or less concur.

The Uzbek government's version of events was that an uprising of Islamist extremists - with links to al-Qaida - had been put down by police and interior ministry troops. This version, backed also by Russia and China, holds that there were next to no civilian casualties and that the action was directed against Islamist insurrectors and bandits. Of course, this story is evidently incorrect. Testimonies by Andijon refugees instead clearly point to a majority of civilian casualties. Furthermore, it seems that also the military was used against civilians, at least judging from what arms apparently were used to put down the rebellion.

As the story came across to the international audience, more or less peaceful demonstrators had been brutally massacred by the Karimov regime. This version must be seen against the background of discontent over social and economic conditions that swept over Uzbekistan in Spring 2005.

As a consequence, massive international protests against the massacre were levelled against the Karimov regime. Thus, the international community reacted to the Andijon events. Following the lead of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the OSCE called for an independent international investigation to find out what transpired in Andijon during those fatal 2005 Spring days. In September 2005, the EU imposed sanctions against the Uzbek leadership, walking a thin line between Human Rights concerns and the needs among its member states for the continued use of the Uzbek Termez airbase for supplies to international operations in Afghanistan. Still, such considerations were eventually put aside, and in retaliation Uzbekistan banned Nato, the US and most EU-states from continued use of Termez.

As is often the case with sanctions, international measures against the Uzbek leadership were somewhat blunt, hitting also reform-oriented regime politicians, e.g. the Uzbek Minister of Defence, Kadyr Gulyamov. Western critics of the sanctions have also argued that the only result was to drive Uzbekistan into the arms of Russia, while at the same time losing all possibilities for Western influence over political developments in the country.

Until now, the real events that took place in Andijon have remained obscure. The 70 minute recording now obtained by the New York Times gives a more nuanced picture of events leading up to the massacre. Recordings show the demonstrations after the prison-break but before troops arrived to quash the rebellion. Most of the demonstrators are unarmed civilians, but a number of armed insurgents and criminals take cover in the crowd. Also, a convicted murderer as well as a known female drug-dealer are agitating to the crowd to stir up wider protests. It is simply obvious that some of the escaped prisoners try to exploit the situation to their own advantage. However, it is even more obvious that the overwhelming majority of demonstrators are unarmed civilians exercising their democratic rights. Also, young men making Molotov cocktails are portrayed. When fire fighters arrive to put out fires ignited by insurgents, they are not only hindered to do so, but also taken hostage.

That public protests of this kind should warrant action by the police or interior ministry troops is clear. Needless to state, Uzbekistan - as any other state - has the right to preserve public order by the legal means at hand. However, there is no excuse for massacring civilians in the process of returning order. It is all too evident that the Karimov regime knowingly used excessive force to set an example to the Uzbek people to put an end to protests that had been growing throughout Uzbekistan during Spring 2005. That armed insurgents and criminals used civilians as cover and exploited public discontent in Andijon can never motivate indiscriminate shooting at civilians. Uzbekistan committed a haineous act against its own people no matter what the rationale for it might have been. That the now published recordings gives a more nuanced picture of events does not change this in the least, but only adds to what many observers guessed already from the outset, given the factors involved. Andijon still stands out as Karimov's worst crime. Let us but hope that the world and the Uzbek people will escape a repetion of similar events elsewhere, despite continued repression.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Russia: Putin's Power Purge?

In recent weeks, rumours have been going around that Putin is about to clamp down on Russia's legal and security structures. The reason for this, would allegedly be that they have grown too powerful and independent for the Kremlin. A purge among its ranks would consequently serve to set the balance right between security and economic interests. However, at a closer look, these rumours seem more an effect of simplification than a correct assessment of the realities of Russia's complex political landscape.

The reason why rumours were in sway, is a number of recent dismissals of high-ranking officials. The structure mostly affected seems to have been the customs services. Thus, Aleksandr Zherikov, head of the federal customs committee was dismissed in May, to be replaced by Andrei Belyanikov. At the same time, the Federal Customs Service was transferred from the ministry of economic development to direct government supervision. Also, Interfax reported that Vladimir Shamakhov, first deputy head of the Customs Service, might tender his resignation. Furthermore, two first deputy heads of the service were retired, namely Yuri Azarov and Leonid Lozbenko.

Turning to the Interior Ministry, a number of high-ranking ministry officials have been sacked from their posts. Also, the Federal Security Service (FSB) has been hit. Thus, three generals have been retired - Kolesnikov, Plotnikov, and Fomenko. As for the judiciary, some prominent judges and prosecutors were dismissed at the same time. Then, the Chairman of the Federation Council announced that a number of Senators were about to be relieved of their powers.

As all these actions occurred more or less simultaneously, there is no wonder that anticipations of a coming Putinist power purge were raised. When Putin announced the dismissal of his old ally Vladimir Ustinov, who recently got his term as Prosecutor General prolonged by five years, many drew the conclusion that the president was about to clamp down on the power structures. However, it did not take long before the soufflé collapsed. Only days later, Vladimir Ustinov was appointed Minister of Justice.

So, what conclusions might be drawn from this? First, that so much creedence has been given these rumours testifies to the tendency of Western analysts to overestimate political tendencies and occurrences in today's Russia. The system of power has become so closed that people are increasingly resorting to guesses. Secondly, the measures per se should not be underestimated. It might well be that Putin is preparing to reform the power structures, but then on a much narrower scale than these rumours have indicated. Third, some caution should be made when analysing Russia from a system's point of view, especially when relating changes in various structures to each other. The risk is that you wind up with wrong or exaggerated conclusions. Finally, what at a time seemed as a Putinist power purge, in reality turned out a mere whimper.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Ukraine: New Government in the Making

On Wednesday, news broke that a new orange coalition government is forming in Ukraine. Both president Yushchenko's Our Ukraine and the Timoshenko bloc (BYuT) confirmed that an agreement had been reached. The news comes amid rumours that Yushchenko was teaming up with orange revolution enemy Yanukovich and his Party of Regions.

If the deal goes through, Yulia Timoshenko will once more become Prime Minister, which has been her primary goal since she was sacked from the post last September. The coalition will be between Our Ukraine, BYuT, and the Socialist Party, which has been the main negotiating approach all along.

Indeed, negotiations to form a coalition between Our Ukraine, BYuT, and the Socialist Party, have been underway ever since the 26 March parliamentary elections. At the beginning of April, Our Ukraine announced that unity had been reached. Then, nothing happened. In mid-May, it was Timoshenko's turn to declare that a new government had been agreed on. Once again, nothing happened. So, one might well perceive news from Kiev on a new cabinet with sound skepticism, were it not for a constitutional deadline on forming a government. Therefore, it now appears that Ukraine will eventually get out of its post-election political deadlock. However, as BBC's Kiev correspondent states, "The deal will not be certain until it is signed."

If the deal goes through, BYuT is said to receive a dominant 11 cabinet posts, including the Premiership. Our Ukraine will get the post as speaker of the Parliament, and has already nominated Petro Poroshenko. The Socialist Party will appoint the vice-Premier.

By all appearances, Ukraine will be in for a tough political ride with its new cabinet. Neither president Yushchenko nor Poroshenko stand Timoshenko, since the fall-out and scandals leading to Timoshenko's dismissal as Premier last September.

Moreover, constitutional changes this year weaken the presidential powers to the benefit of parliament - the Verkhovna Rada. The Rada has a long tradition of relative independence, playing its role in the political balance of power, and party allegiance is far from granted. With fiery and controversial Yulia Timoshenko as Premier, parliament may decide to get in the way of her plans at leisure.

However, there is one strong binding-force uniting the new government. The political forces of the Orange Revolution has failed once. This time they have to succeed or face total political discredit for the foreseeable future. Thus, as Ukrainian political analyst, Volodymyr Fesenko, put it to AFP: "It's a second chance and if they fail, they'll all go down together."

Turning to Ukraine's international relations, with Timoshenko as Prime Minister, relations with Russia are in obvious jeopardy. Already the same day that the new coalition was announced, Timoshenko called for a review of the Russian-Ukrainian gas deal that ended the New Year's gas crisis earlier this year, BBC reports.

In addition to this, the US Marine Corps participated in exercises on the Crimean peninsula a few weeks ago, which sparked fears in Moscow of Ukrainian ambitions to join Nato. Thus, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov warned Ukraine that such a move would seriously hurt relations Moscow and Kiev.

The majority of Crimeans are ehtnic Russians, and the Black Sea peninsula was transferred from Russia to Ukraine as late as in 1954 by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. Therefore, the presence of US troops in a disputed Ukrainian region does not serve to improve Ukrainian relations with Russia. Indeed, the government that is now being formed will inevitably have to meet major challenges in its relations with the Kremlin.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Belarus: HR-Activists Get Swedish Awards

On Monday, the Anna Lindh Memorial Fund announced that this year's human rights' awards both go to Belarus. Thus, Tatiana Ravyaka receives the 2006 Anna Lindh Prize and Alyaksandr Byalyatski the Per Anger Prize. Both prize winners represent the Belarusian Human Rights Center Viasna.

Byalyatski, the leader of Viasna, has for a decade supported human rights in Belarus by offering legal aid to the thousands of people that have been repressed by Lukashenka's regime. He is awarded the Per Anger Prize for his "brave struggle for the rights of the individual in the fight against oppression of human rights."

Tatiana Revyaka, also of Viasna, receives the 2006 Anna Lindh Prize for her "committment, empathy and persistence in disclosing wrongs and supporting and advocating the oppressed. She courageously defies political oppression and spreads knowledge of an alternative society in which the rights of the individual are inviolable."

The Anna Lindh Memorial Prize was founded in honour of former Swedish minister of foreign Affairs, Mrs. Anna Lindh, who was murdered by a madman during a political campaign in 2003. The Per Anger Prize is in honour of ambassador Per Anger, Raoul Wallenberg's closest associate in salvaging jews in Hungary during WWII. The prizes will be presented to Revyaka and Byalyatski at a ceremony in Stockholm on 14 june.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Russia Warns Ukraine & Georgia of NATO

On Wednesday, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov warned Ukraine and Georgia of joining Nato. During a speech in the Russian State Duma, Lavrov argued that such a "colossal geopolitical" change would threaten relations with the two countries. "We assess all possible consequences primarily from the point of view of Russia's national interests," Lavrov said.

According to Ukrainian foregn minister, Anton Buteiko, a majority of Ukrainians support that Ukraine would join Nato. If Buteiko would be right, this would constitute an enormous change in Ukrainian public opinion. As late as last year, only some 10% of public opinion supported Nato-membership. Why public opinion may have turned is unclear, but it might be as a consequence of the New Year's Russian-Ukrainian gas crisis. As for Georgia, Tbilisi has for long had the ambition to join Nato, but it has been regarded unrealistic as long as it is not accompanied by a Ukrainian application to enter the North Atlantic alliance.

That Russia, at this point, warns of the consequences primarily of Ukrainian Nato-membership, is due to regional political developments, not least with GUAM's recent formation of the Organization for Democratic and Economic Development, combined with increasing US openness to accepting the two countries as members of Nato. In Moscow eyes, such tendencies form part of a much greater geopolitical struggle between Russia and the US for influence over post-soviet space - Russia's traditional sphere of vital national interest.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Estonia: Gay Ambassador Flees Homophobia

The Dutch ambassador to Tallinn, Hans Glabitz, has decided to leave his mission to Estonia due to "persistent racist and homophobic abuse," BBC reports. Glaubitz is openly gay and lives with his coloured Cuban partner.

The problem has not been on an official level. The Estonian foreign ministry is, to the opposite, careful to point out that the couple has been well received at an official level. Instead, Glaubitz decision is due to widespread public homophobia in Estonia. According to Glaubitz, the couple has been constantly harassed in public by skinheads and drunkards with homophobic and racist remarks.

The Glaubitz case regrettably demonstrates the kind of homophbia still latent in many East European countries. That even a foreign ambassador finds his posting to a fellow European country unbearable, shows how profound a clash in cultures may be between the liberal Netherlands and relatively conservative Estonia.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Russia: Dollar vs Rouble

Last week, the Russian State Duma proposed a law prohibiting the use of prices in foreign currency. For all practical reasons, this would mean that price-setting in dollar and euro would be banned in Russia. The law proposal, which stands good chances of being passed, has been much ridiculed by domestic and international media alike. However, is there really reason for such ridicule if one would only closer consider the general idea?

Russians like to set their prices in dollar for the simple reason that any bigger business transaction in Russia is made in dollar. With inflation rates of up to 2,500% annually in the early 1990's, Russians have grown accustomed not to trust the country's own currency, viz. the rouble. Therefore, most Russians also keep their savings in US dollar. Despite a mere 11% inflation rate last year, people remember the latest great financial crisis in 1998, when the rouble dropped some 86% in the course of a year. Today's relative macroeconomic balance in the Russian economy, not least due to rising oil incomes, is therefore not reflected by greater trust in the rouble. Only this year, the rouble exchange rate has increased by 7% against the dollar. However, this does not seem to change how Russians value the rouble.

Nevertheless, sound scepticism is currently motivated to the dollar as store of value. Earlier this Spring, Russian Finance Minister, Aleksei Kudrin, questioned the US dollar as international reserve currency. In view of how volatile the dollar course has been in recent years, Kudrin's question has some rationale. People and national banks alike have, to an increasing extent, turned to the euro to hedge currency risks. Of course, this challenges the advantage of seigniorage for the US economy, allowing the country its current budget deficit due to the Iraq war. However, US deficit has now reached such levels that trust in the dollar is inevitably dropping. That oil producers are tending to turn to the euro for setting oil prices instead of the dollar, is a worrying tendency for the US. In view of increasingly diverging interests between Moscow and Washington, Russia's increasing scepticism towards the dollar comes at a time when the US economy is vulnerable to critique. Whether Russian initiatives to rid itself of dollar dependency also have a political motive sparked by deteriorating US-Russian relations is too early to say.

For now, the new legislation is interesting enough. So, will such a law actually work? No, of course not. Banning public use of dollar or euro denominations will have absurd consequences. Looking only at president Putin's recent annual address to the State Duma, it would have rendered him a considerable fine, judging from the number of times he used the "d" word. The new law may also create considerable confusion at the upcoming G8 Summit in Petersburg, as the Duma has recommended the Russian delegation only to use rouble denominations when presenting financial data. Former Finance Minister Boris Fedorov argues that the law will make Russia an international laughing-stock. His successor, Aleksei Kudrin, predicts that state officials will become totally confused by amounts "followed by an infinite number of zeros."

Still, is it not quite natural that a state uses its own currency denominations as a measurement of transactions? What would e.g. an American say if all US prices were in euro, despite the fact that payment would be made in dollar? That a reserve currency - such as the dollar or euro - is used in inflatory or crisis economies is quite natural, because people want to be sure of the value of their money. However, the rouble has preserved its value relatively well for such a long time now, that one should perhaps start reconsidering its value also in psychological terms. This will take time, but one has to start somewhere. It is quite evident that an economy the size of Russia cannot in the long-run go on using foreign currency as its financial gauge. The price of this is too great, not least in terms of transaction-costs and non-deposited money with no interest. So, despite the fact that the specific Duma bill and the debate surrounding it may be laughable, Russia has to start somewhere to normalise its economy. In light of this, the Duma may not be all wrong.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Ukraine: What Pascual Doesn't Tell

Chernobyl's lesson is that a state's lies threaten its people and its sovereignty. With this argument, former US ambassador to Kiev, Carlos Pascual, sets out on a frontal attack on Ukraine's leaders, in today's Washington Post. Using Chernobyl in a distasteful parallel, Pascual criticises Kiev for corrupting the security of Ukraine. However, what is not said is often more interesting than what is actually said. Thus, implicitly accusing Ukrainian leaders for lying, Pascual himself conceals crucial facts.

The immediate background to Pascual's vociferous accusations is the New Year's gas crisis between Russia and Ukraine. Kiev was put to the test, when Russian gas company Gazprom turned off gas supplies to Ukraine in mid winter. Racing against time and "popular" hypothermia, the Ukrainian government struck the deal they could get given the circumstances. With a 47 million hostage, there was little choice but to give way to Moscow's blackmail, using the brokers and dealers at hand. The result was a construct typical to the situation - with the much criticised RosUkrEnergo. It was a slave contract on unequal terms with murky Russian-Ukrainian business interests. So, where was Washington when Moscow chose to turn the tap? The truth is that Ukraine was left to the wolves, with support more in words than in deeds.

It is true, as Pascual argues, that Ukraine has enormous problems with corruption, especially within the energy sector, but he fails to see that steps are taken to combat this evil. Getting at grips with this is a condition for reform. Thus, Ukraine is intent on fighting corruption, because there is simply no other way to develop the country. The sickness is set deep in the system - from ministers to milkmen. Everyone knows this, and the Orange Revolution expressed that it was time for a change. Corruption causes lies, but what is a lie if nobody believes in it? People knew the truth, and believed they could change. However, transforming a society is like achieving transparency. It is not just getting there. It is starting somewhere. Corruption is endemic to Ukraine, and here no other sector is easier to pick on than energy. As with any monopoly, corruption will flourish as long as one supplier, namely Russia, dominates.

However, corruption and Kiev's energy problem do not justify implicit accusations that Ukrainian politics is based on lies, by equating Soviet falsehood with current democratic rule. Nor does it warrant unjust parallels between the national trauma of Chernobyl and today's complex energy policies. Pascual claims that:

Unlike in 1986 when Soviet leaders tried to cover up Chernobyl's threat, Ukraine's leaders now have the opportunity to respond to alarm bells in the gas sector and forestall an impending danger to its own sovereignty and European energy security.

What Pascual does not tell, is that Ukraine's leaders seize any opportunity they can to safeguard energy supplies - for themselves and Europe. In doing so, Kiev is walking a thin line along the domestic-foreign frontier. Relations with Russia are tense, but there is little other alternative for now, than to rely on Moscow for energy supplies. That Ukraine is dependent "on imported gas and shady contracts" is simply an effect of this.

Still, Kiev is actively trying to find alternative solutions that could also benefit other nations. Against Russia's expressive will, Ukraine is turning the flow of oil in the Odessa-Brody pipeline towards Europe. Gas supplies from Turkmenistan are sought, admittedly though in cooperation with the infamous RosUkrEnergo. Last year, plans were announced to build a pipeline from the Caspian to Poland. Another scheme is a pipeline from Iran - and then also a pipeline to the Baltic. Finally, only last week, Georgia Ukraine, Armenia and Moldova formed a regional "Organization for Democracy and Economic Development," where one of the main purposes is to: "activize efforts to ensure energy security, including by means of diversifying routes of transportation of energy resources from Central Asia and Caspian regions to the European market."

Are these actions of a country that does not try to assume its responsibility? Obviously, Kiev is trying to find alternatives to dependence on Russian energy, and by doing so attempts to rid itself of the full-fledged corruption within the Russia-Ukraine gas trade. Therefore, seeking alternatives is breaking with the past - as much in terms of dependence as corruption. This is a fact that Pascual should acknowledge, not least because Ukraine - and not the US - is running the risk of failure.

So, are the leaders of Ukraine lying, and thereby threatening their people and the sovereignty of the nation? Judging from the actions that Pascual proposes in comparison to what Kiev actually does, such a presumption is mere nonsense. There is little doubt that the government and a majority of Ukrainians would wholeheartedly subscribe to most of the measures Pascual proposes, if they only had the power to do so. Furthermore, Kiev is already working in this direction. Pascual simply cannot be ignorant of this. The question is how great a responsibility Ukraine should assume. Kiev is already out on a limb in trying to please US and EU interests in confrontation with Russia.

Bismarck said that "Politics is the art of the possible." Galbraith begged to differ by arguing that "Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable." It is the latter type of choices Ukraine's leaders have been facing ever since the Orange Revolution. To belittle the difficulties of these choices is outright impudent. The West rightly assumes that democracies are stable. Seldom do we realise that democratisation is volatile. In the last two years, Ukraine has made giant leaps in democratisation. Its leaders must, however, be given the benefit of the doubt that they are able to avoid the pitfalls on the road to democracy. They are little served by being stabbed in the back for not reaching perfection at once. Instead of a reward for trying, Pascual scolds them.

Furthermore, when Pascual implies that the Ukrainian leadership is lying to the people, he is in blatant disrespect of the sovereign choice of the Ukrainian people. A majority has repeatedly voted for change. On March 26, the road to reform was reconfirmed in defiance of all the hardships it involves. The people steered off from an impending backlash, not necessarily because they believed in their leaders, but because they trusted this was the right way forward.

Politics in Ukraine is a sham since the elections, and the people is witnessing the daily charade of coalition negotiations to form a new government. Still, if the politicians fail, the people will hold them accountable for erring. It is a mutual relationship with few parallels in post-soviet space. The people has, once and for all, empowered itself, and will not accept that politicians make a mockery of its sacrifices for reform and democracy. Still, few believe in miracles and the understanding is growing that progress will take time. People are no fools. Their trust will be proportionate to the achievements. The people has had its choice, and has opted for further reforms with open eyes. This is a question of political direction - not political directors. To assume that the people is not competent to judge its leaders and to see through lies, when it has done so less than three months ago is a grave misperception.

Today, what people and politicians alike realise, is the basic political and economic paradigm of diversifying risks. This is not the time for pigheadedness in going full-out either way. There is a need for moderation, even if it may involve suboptimal solutions, for the simple reason that there is no power to reach the optimal. The alternatve for the people is failure, and nobody will be there to catch them if they fall, as demonstrated by the gas crisis.

Furthermore, when Pascual calls for state intervention in the energy sector, he ignores the importance of separating state from business - the lack of which has casused many of the problems from the outset. He thus disregards the delicate balance needed for gradually introducing necessary state regulation. On a wider European scale, Kiev needs all the backing it can get for the policy it is already pursuing. Substantially greater support is needed if anything more is to be done. Such support will most likely be lacking. Pascual himself states the obvious reason for this:

The United States hardly needs another crisis in the Russia relationship as we seek Russia's help in preventing a nuclear Iran. Russia needs neither an irate European customer nor a fight with diplomatic partners seeking to prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb.

Thereby, Pascual also fails to recognise the connection between Ukraine's domestic and foreign policy. For all the domestic measures that he proposes are in direct contradiction with Russia's core interests in using energy to exert influence over its "near abroad." A situation where Moscow directly or indirectly controls Ukraine's energy sector is decidedly in the best interest of the Kremlin. The greater extent of corruption, the less degree of cohesion will Ukraine's energy policy have. As long as such a situation is maintained, Russia gets both the power and the profits from Ukraine's gas dependence. Therefore, Moscow will most likely oppose any reforms or clensing of this sector. Taking heed to Russia's interests is simply incompatible with ensuring Ukraine's and Europe's gas supplies by supporting Ukraine. This should not conceal the fact that "the EU and the US should engage Ukraine and Russia before the crisis erupts and offer to facilitate negotitation of normal commercial arrangements." Here, Pascual is completely right.

All the same, it appears that the US cannot have it both ways: Urging Ukraine forward and at the same time serving Russian interests. If the Bush administration would seriously consider Pascuals proposals, Washington may have to "walk the walk and talk the talk," and that means directly confronting Russian interests. The other way around would, to the contrary, satisfy Moscow in the short run, but also potentially paralyze progress in safeguarding Ukraine's and Europe's gas supplies in the long run. There is, however, a middle way: Trusting the sound judgement of Ukraine's leaders, that they are competent to handle the issue themselves on a regional level, and with due support from the West. This would mean the continued long-term diversification of energy supplies that Ukraine and neighbouring countries have initiated, in combination with short-term EU and US arbitration between Kiev and Moscow. By lengthy engagement, US and EU companies may also get a stake in the profits by construction of pipelines and energy production. However, trusting Ukraine's leaders is obviously the last thing Pascual would do. What he does is to urge them to pull forward in response to the dangers to their own "sovereignty and European energy security." At the same time, he apparently refers to Ukraine when stating that "Russia needs neither an irate customer nor a fight with diplomatic partners seeking to prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb." By urging Kiev forward, Pascual however creates the latter - an irate customer in the guise of Ukraine.

One cannot but agree that most of Pascual's proposals would be desirable both for Ukraine and Europe at large - including Russia. The contradiction they carry in incompatible positions for, on the one hand Russia, and on the other hand Ukraine, Europe and the US, makes them an impossible road to tread. After three years in Kiev, one would expect Pascual to understand these basic complexities when Ukrainian domestic and foreign policies converge. This is though the most important factor that Pascual doesn't tell. By concealing complex but crucial factors, he would appear to badly serve the interests of both Ukraine and US foreign policy.

To be quite blunt, Pascual needs to cut the crap. He does not tell a lie, but he is surely twisting the facts, although he should know better. What is the real political motive for this? Does he have an issue with the leaders of Ukraine, the Bush administration, or the fact that Kiev does not wholly comply with any brainchild that Bush & consortes may conjure up? Prescribing a policy in two seemingly incompatible directions is not an answer. So, what is his motive. This, only Pascual can tell.

Ukraine: Football to the People

On Monday, Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuri Yekhanurov appealed to the country's business leaders to let employees watch World Cup football matches, Ukrayinska Pravda reports. After two near misses since independence, this is the first time Ukraine's national team has qualified for the World Cup.

Football fever has struck Ukraine with full force. To avoid a full-out epidemic, Yekhanurov now pleads with the country's chief industrialists, to let people watch the matches. Otherwise, he fears a considerable decrease in production. His recipe is to adjust working hours to avoid collisions with matches. Another viable alternative would be to put TV-sets at workplaces. Why? Yekhanurov explains: "We can expect an epidemic of various diseases. People will simply report sick in multitudes." Is the similarity between "support" and be "ill" in Russian a mere coincidence, one wonders.

Yekhanurov's appeal may seem peculiar. However, there is some precedence. When the American soap opera "Santa Barbara" hit Russia in the early 1990's, production is said to have halted in factories throughout the country. Being the first American TV-show broadcast after soviet demise, many Russians were spellbound by the wealth and careless life of a family presenting a would-be version of the American dream. However, Russians were far from the only Santa Barbara addicts. US president Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy is said to have been next-to fanatic viewers. So, Yekhanurov might not be so wrong after all. World Cup wins or visions of wealth - one has to let the people nurture some dreams.

Note: In Russian, support is болеть whereas ill is болен. However, in Ukrainian, supporter is прибічник, and ill is хворий.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Belarus: The Galina Rodionovna Mystery

On account of a recent dicussion at Tobias Ljungvall on Belarus, more questions must obviously be raised about Galina Rodionovna - wife of Belarus president Lukashenka. Who is she - this first lady of Belarus? Few seem to know, why the question all the more deserves an answer. Who can solve the mystery of Galina Rodionovna - Belarus' secretive presidential wife?

As previously discussed, Lukashenka's wife, Galina Rodionovna, has for long been out of public view in Belarus. She still lives in the rural town of Shklov, where Lukashenka once led a collective farm. Officially, she is regularly commuting to her husband in Minsk, but among others the BBC claims that the couple is separated. They have two sons together - Viktor and Dmitry.

On the few occasions, when Lukashenka has commented on Mrs. Rodionovna, he has been saying things like: "Wives have no business in the affairs of state officials." Lukashenka has also reportedly been negative to examples where wives and children of state leaders are put in the limelight. This would seem one of the few positive traits of Lukashenka. However, keeping his family out of power seems to be an ambition that he nowadays is not fulfilling, as his sons appear to exercise an increasing influence in state affairs.

The picture above, courteously provided by Tobias Ljungvall, depicts the couple's wedding. However, it is one of only two available photos of Mrs. Rodionovna. The other one depicts her milking a cow, which does not appear a common chore for a presidential wife. Ljungvall claims that "she is said to be a decent woman." Then, what more is to be said? Questions abound, but little is disclosed. For the time being, it seems that Galina Rodionovna will continue to be a mystery to the world.