Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Solving Chornovol assault has become a game of poker... and links between perp and politicos

This from United States Mission to the OSCE, delivered today by Ambassador Daniel B. Baer, in his "Statement on Events in Ukraine", 

"....The United States, like many other countries, was deeply dismayed to learn of the violent beating of Ukrainian activist and journalist Tatiana Chornovol in the early morning of December 25. A few hours earlier, Chornovol, who has reported critically on alleged government misuse of state resources, had posted on her blog photos of a residence alleged to belong to a member of the Yanukovich government. The photographs of Chornovol’s bloodied and battered face after she was left in a ditch by her assailants are a haunting reminder of the work still before us to prevent future abuses in the OSCE space.

"Chornovol’s beating appears to be part of an emerging pattern of retribution against those who have organized, participated in, or reported sympathetically on the Euromaidan protests in exercising their fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly. One journalist tweeted poignantly on Christmas Day: “The scary thing [about] an assault on Chornovol [is] that every journalist working in Ukraine now could easily imagine himself in her place, me included.”

Will the case ever be fully solved? Will those who commissioned it ever be brought to justice?
Because of the total mistrust of law enforcement agencies, most Ukrainians have little faith that they will. Nevertheless, it seems that the authorities have at last realised the magnitude of the resonance of this crime.

Even the dashboard camera recordings from Chornovol's vehicle leaked onto YouTube by Chornovol's family and their opposition party aids have been edited - there are several short portions clipped out. This is unfortunate..

These portions may well contain further evidence that could be produced if law enforcement agencies present a falsified version of events in any trial of the accused. E.g. the portions of video held back may contain details of a second vehicle that was allegedly involved. The presence of a second vehicle would make any case of conspiracy far more credible and could provide further clues as to the identity of the commissioners of the crime..

The highway along which Chornovol's vehicle was chased and forced off the road has many video surveillance cameras posted along it. She may have passed a dozen of these. Some reports claim that vehicles can be continuously tracked along this stretch of highway, so investigators will be checking video footage...but what will they produce in court?

Chornovol herself may provide vital evidence. Her husband today stated that she can ID one of her assailants..

There is a game of poker going on, with both sides keeping several cards very close to their chests in order to blacken opponents and minimise political damage.

When Tetyana Chornovol does eventually return to health she will almost certainly continue her work investigating wrongdoing by the president and those in the cabinet...and will expose those evil men who tried to kill her.

p.s. The diabolical links between career criminals and Ukrainian politicians are well illustrated by this entire case.

There are many unofficial reports that the fifth suspect is a  Roman Aleksandrovych Zalyubovsky .

He is about 34 years of age, was born, and lives in Dniprodzerzhinsk.

According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs' official statements, he works as a security guard. According to another of the suspects, he looked like a boxer..

In 2010, Zalyubovsky  became founder and director of a real estate company called "World-Bud"- in reality he was probably only the 'front man'.

Before him the owner of the company was Oleh Netrebko, who was the founder of the Ukrainian Horting (martial arts) Federation .  Netrebko also owns a chain of other companies related to real estate, and other businesses in the Dnipropetrovsk region, farms etc.

In 2006 Netrebko was a candidate for Natalia Vitrenko's 'Rus' party.

Netrebko was according to some reports, also a criminal authority in the region, a.k.a. "Netrik." and collaborated with another crime boss who featured heavily in my blogs several years ago, the late Maksym [a.k.a. Mad Max] Kurochkin. [Oh, happy days..]

Netrebko was an aid to the former PoR parliamentary deputy Valeriya Matyukha. She had been called as a witness in investigation of the murder of one Roman Yerokhin [who also featured in 'ForeignNotes' a few years ago.]

Organised crime investigator Yerohkin had been delving into money laundering operations in Eastern Ukraine - some of it allegedly linked to current interior minister Zaharchenko.

Matyukha started her career as a secretary in the company of Olena Lukash - who is now the current Minister of Justice of Ukraine....

How bad can it get? This is why YevroMaidan's favourite chant is "Bandu Het!" [Out with the criminal gang] They know what what they want...

[More here]

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Chornovol beating suspect's story does not stack up

Serhiy Kotenko, one of the arrested suspects accused of causing grievous bodily harm to Tetyana Chornovol, spoke to a journalist through courtroom cage bars when he appeared in court. a couple of days ago. Partial transcript in English here:

Much of his story does not stack up.

I have personally had involvement with guys from Ukraine purchasing vehicles. They are ultra, ultra careful to verify everything, particularly documents relating to ownership. A smudged document stamp or one wrong number in a chassis or engine number entered on a registration document, and its no deal..

"The goods" are invariably scrupulously, if not microscopically examined, inside, outside, underneath, everywhere...

Kotenko claims he was selling the Porsche Cayenne [which rammed Chornovol's little Chevrolet], yet he was not the owner - the vehicle was registered to another of the suspects, one Oleksandr Khramtsov. He and prospective purchasers would be well aware no sale could be made without correct paperwork.

I cannot imagine anyone buying [or selling, come to that] a vehicle at midnight in the middle of winter, on the street, to strangers, particularly a high-end Porsche, even though it was a few years old.

Kotenko says the two prospective purchasers he met looked tough and mean - he thought they were boxers; he did not know them yet he let them drive the vehicle on a main highway in the middle of the night...knowing though they could have dumped him any time at the side of the road and drive away scot-free.

They smashed up his vehicle, beat up Chornovol, drove to Brovary, and left him without saying a word. But Kotenko went to a friend's place and goes to bed..without informing the police....

At the end of the dash camera footage from Chornovol's car, two guys emerge from the Porsche, and the vehicle then drives forward..Either Kotenko was at the wheel and not on the back seat as he claims, in which case he actively participated in the crime, or he was one of the two guys seen coming out of the vehicle, the other prospective purchasers being behind the wheel, steering the car to one side of the road.

Husband provides details of attempt on life of Tetyana Chornovol

Although there have been many reports on the dreadful assault on Tetyana Chornovol in English, .e.g. as in 'KyivPost' here and here  they have missed several important details.

Today Chornovol's husband, Mykola Berozovyi, was interviewed on the internet-based 'Hromadske.tv'

He makes the following points, amongst others:

A second automobile, as well as the Porsche Cayenne, was used by the perpetrators in the attempt to force Chornovol's small Chevrolet into oncoming traffic on the busy Boryspil highway, in order to cause a head-on crash. No mention has been made of any second automobile in any official statement by official law enforcement bodies. [The authorities at first claimed it had been a 'road rage' incident..the presence of two vehicles would discount this theory and also would suggest a wider, planned conspiracy].

At least three traffic control video cameras were passed by Chornovol and her assailants as they drove along this highway, maybe many more. No mention has been made of any recordings to date, although one tv station has published a brief surveillance video from a filling station showing both Chornovol's automobile and the Porsche Cayenne which repeatedly rammed it shortly after, driving through.

Berezovyi revealed that Chornovol had been systematically followed in recent times, and at first considered the attending Porsche was just a continuation of this process. She was convinced that she would soon be arrested. She and her husband had used intrigue and set false trails to check and prove that her phone was being bugged. This constant surveillance must have been authorised and logged by senior law enforcement officials, but Berezovyi suggested that this vital evidence will never be revealed, for obvious reasons: no-one is about to incriminate themselves or their superiors.

He explained that the violent assault was certainly an attempt to kill his wife. She had been violently struck about the temples and face, hard enough to cause multiple, serious fractures, but nowhere else about her body. She was severely concussed and is still suffering from partial amnesia as a result. Her lungs contained a large quantity of blood so must have been unconscious when she was dumped by her assailants, and until she was found, providing more evidence she had been left for dead.

The video recorder in Chornovol's Chevrolet had only been installed two days previously - the assailants would not have known of its existence, so they made no attempt to remove it.

Berezovyi points the finger of suspicion at Kyiv 'Berkut' chief, Serhiy Kusyuk. Chornovol and Kusyuk had had several confrontations by the Kyiv city council building when it was stormed by Euromaidan supporters, and when 'Berkut' forces indiscriminately beat up peaceful demonstrators on the Euromaidan on the night of 30th November. Chornovol had punched Kusyuk in the liver in the melee, and this had been seen by many of his subordinates [She had made a monkey out of him, much to Kusyuk's embarrassment]

Berezovyi states the obvious when he asserts that those who commissioned the attempted murder of his wife will do everything possible to 'muddy the waters' and lay false trails in the investigation of this crime. He repeats [as does your blogger] what is often forgotten -  those who govern and control the country right now came to the fore in the murderous early and mid nineties in Donetsk, stepping over the corpses of dozens of prominent businessmen that had come to a grizzly end at that time.

The reason why virtually none of these crimes were ever solved was because law enforcement officials and the judiciary were colluding and provided cover to the perpetrators. Rubbing out the opposition by violent means is part of their modus operandi..

But Berezovyi does not rule out others in commissioning the attempt on his wife's life, and names Viktor Medvedchuk too.

The Porsche Cayenne had also tailed her hours before when she was returning from the house of Viktor Pshonka, the prosecutor-general, a few hours previously..

p.s. A fifth assailant has been detained - he has allegedly 'fessed up'. But unlike the other four suspects, his  name has been withheld...to prevent independent investigators digging up evidence linking him to the commissioners of the crime?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Pshonka and Zakharchenko should step down, not lead Chornovol attempted murder case [updated]

I'm sure readers of this blog were just as appalled as your blogger when they read of the diabolical assault on Tetyana Chornovol.

Her reports featuring the wrongdoings of top Ukrainian politicians, including the president, have featured many times in 'ForeignNotes' over the years

"President Viktor Yanukovych's press service released a statement on Dec. 25, saying that the president condemned this act of violence and ordered Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka and Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko to do everything to solve the case of Chornovol's beating."

A few hours before the incident Chornovol had posted a blog on the newly renamed 'YevropeyskaPravda' site entitled:

"The executioner lives here! The residence of "Minister of Internal Affairs Vitaliy Zakharchenko"

In any decent country Zakharchenko, as a possible suspect, would be immediately removed from further participation into the investigation of this dreadful crime, rather than shamelessly bragging about personally supervising the investigation, on this official video.

Because Chornovol was also simultaneously actively investigating the prosecutor-general Pshonka and his property, Pshonka too should have been completely isolated from participation in any law enforcement activities connected with this dreadful business.

If they were decent men, they would voluntarily step aside, if only temporarily, until the perpetrators are dealt with.

But they are not, and neither is the president - the man who has 'ordered' them to solve the case...

Pshonka, in 2001,  was allegedly involved in the murder of another journalist, Igor Aleksandrov, who was clubbed to death with baseball bats. Aleksandrov had been investigating Pshonka's son's links to local organised crime gangs.

Pshonka was a highly placed prosecutor in the Dontesk oblast from 1986 until 2003.  During this period, particularly in the the mid nineties, many dozens killings of top businessmen/crime bosses took place in the oblast. Few if any of these crimes were solved. Those guys who survived and prospered*, the Donetsk clan, now run Ukraine..

Chornovol's small automobile was forced off the road and was impacted many times by a Porsche Cayenne SUV, whilst driving along a busy highway late at night. The Porsche, according to some reports, was escorted by two other vehicles. Her assailants beat her severely causing several fractures, then left her for dead in a ditch. She is currently in intensive care in a serious but stable condition. This was unquestionably an attempted killing...not what the police have cynically and disgracefully labelled 'hooliganism' on their official site. Hooliganism encompasses many minor crimes.... like the painting of graffiti...

The assault was one of a series of what is looking ever more like an organised campaign of violence against many organisers of the Maidan. To date over 50 of them have been beaten; dozens of vehicles have been torched.

Taras Chornovil, [no relation to Chornovol] whose presidential candidate father was murdered over a decade ago,  has suggested that Zakharchenko has set up a band of 'werewolves' or 'eagles' similar to those involved in the killing of journalist Georgiy Gongadze and his father.

Tetyana Chornovol, a very high profile investigative journalist, had been a thorn in the sides of the authorities for many years. She had in the last few weeks figured in criminal cases. Yesterday was the first time she had left the Maidan for several weeks. She was constantly under surveillance and followed and harassed by law enforcement agents. Some degree of involvement by security forces is therefore quite probable...They would have known that last night, unusually, she was travelling home alone. She was found and taken to hospital by DAI road traffic police very quickly after the incident.

BBC, in their profile on Tetyana Chornovol today, include this: "In 2008, she was at the centre of a libel case in which Donetsk tycoon Rinat Akhmetov sued the Obozrevatel website in a London court over "false allegations" in her reports on his early career. The court awarded Mr Akhmetov $100,000 in damages."

I hope the lawyers who represented Akhmetov enjoyed spending their no doubt substantial fee..and choke on their Christmas pudding when they read the story....

Allegations will be made that Chornovol was beaten in an act of provocation to further ramp up anger against Yanukovych, and to revitalise the Maidan movement of which she is an active participant. Against the background of paid troublemakers a.k.a. 'titushky' at pro-government rallies, and the series of attacks against Maidan organisers, these allegations will have little traction..

Party of Regions' spokesman Olena Bondarenko, on the official PoR site, requests those with any information about the Chornovol attack to come forward, but in a mealy-mouthed response declares:

"..today the opposition has shown that it does not control the situation. And proof of this is the incident surrounding civic activist Tatyana Chornovol. Despite the fact that civic leaders take part in mass disturbances, smash windows, it is impermissible to commit violence against them"  in other words its all the fault of the opposition...

p.s. A while ago I ran this:

"By the end of the 90's, an unspoken agreement between the general public and these elites* was formed because the people in power that had grabbed former state property by force,  managed to set up certain rules of the game so ending the gangster lawlessness of the early 90's.

A mutually acceptable amnesia descended on the country, and the dangerous, lawless days of the early and mid-nineties were all but forgotten about by everyone....it became a taboo subject. Society gave the appearance of having forgiven the country's elite in exchange for something that resembled civilised life." 

This amnesia is now lifting..

p.p.s. Say a little prayer for this brave, wonderful young woman tonight...

Update: Investigators are suggesting the brutal assault on Chornovol was a simple case of 'road rage'., the well-to-do perpetrators, who are allegedly members of Ukraine's rotten elite, wanted to teach the victim a lesson for cutting them up on the road.

This simply will not do...

Be sure, Chornovol's many journalist friends will get to the bottom of this...

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Will Maidan run out of steam?

James Sherr, in his "KyivPost" interview today proposes five possible outcomes to the current stand-off between the protesters in Maidan and president Yanukovych.

The third of these, Yanukovych' "preferred option" would be to restore his authority "by apparent coexistence with a diminishing Maidan, by creeping repression and by return to an apparent normality".

Yanukovych's strategy is to play the long game, hoping that the cold and inclement weather, combined with the seasonal holiday period, will cause the Maidan to wither. Even some supporters question its proposed restructuring, considering this to be a partial, harmful hijacking by existing opposition parties.

There is plenty of evidence the authorities have been systematically targeting individual civic opposition activists, arresting them and locking them up on flimsy, fabricated charges, hoping to frightens off others.

Some observers, including your blogger, consider that some of the video clips showing peaceful demonstrators being viscously assaulted by Berkut special forces early morning 30th November in the Maidan, and on the following Sunday outside the presidential administration, were leaked onto YouTube by law enforcement officials themselves in order to deter further protests. This, of course, backfired spectacularly and lead to the gigantic peaceful demonstration on the next Sunday, and Sundays following these violent events.

Targeting individuals for persecution now will also cause even greater indignation.

Many of those who have been wearied by their days on Maidan will return home for holidays. But they will rest, meet other friends and family members, and will return re-energised, perhaps more organised, in even in greater numbers to Maidan. It has to be remembered many Ukrainians work in agriculture...for them winter is a quieter season. And with the country in recession for many months, industrial workers have been working short time or have even been laid off for long durations. Traditionally, these workers are not made redundant as would be the case in factories in the West...but remain 'on the books' despite there being no work for them.

The Maidan organisers know that they simply must have to have several thousand people there constantly...but they can confidently assume that many tens of thousands will turn up every week or two to support them, as they have over the last month for mass meetings and rallies, especially if Yanukovych makes any more blunders..

The holiday period will also be used by some disgruntled PoR parliamentary deputies [some allege there could be more than 60], as well as some of the three dozen or so non affiliated deputies, who are unhappy about Yanukovych selling out to Putin, to weigh up their options..

p.s. There were some rumours including in 'Segodnya', that Yanukovych may have been taken ill today on the eve of his visit to Moscow...Hmm...

Some joke that in order to become president in Ukraine you have to have spent time in prison, and preferably also have survived an assassination attack..It must be a worry when your predecessor nearly died of poisoning...if you ever get a tummy upset.. or anything like that...

p.p.s. "I once asked a man whom I trusted why on earth he thought those men already in possession of power and riches beyond anyone's wildest dreams, never stop trying to accumulate. First, he replied, because they only feel their power in the moment they exert it. Second, because you can't take your wealth with you when you die (death is the great equaliser, every act of self-empowerment is a futile protest against death..."

Friday, December 20, 2013

Yanukovych sensing his own demise?

"On December 17, after a session of the Russian-Ukrainian intergovernmental commission President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia would place part of reserves from its National Welfare Fund in the amount of $15 billion in Ukrainian government securities.

In addition, Gazprom and Naftogaz Ukraine signed a supplement to the January 19, 2009 contract on natural gas deliveries. Putin said that the document permits Gazprom delivering gas to Ukraine at $268.5 per 1,000 cubic meters down from $400 now." [Source ]

Russian law does not currently permit the country's 'rainy day' pension fund to invest in other nation's bonds, especially those having a low rating such as Ukraine's. It is by no means certain that such transactions will take place, and if they do, on what terms.

As for the gas deal, Ukraine will have to purchase much larger quantities that it currently does, and the price may be re-evaluated every three months.

Conclusion: The deals struck by the presidents of Russia and Ukraine are mere window-dressing...neither side will stick to their side of the bargain and fresh circumstances will necessitate their reassessment.

As for the gas deal struck two days ago, this is the second occasion that Yanukovych has 'tacked on' supplementary arrangements onto the so-called ruinous 2009 Tymoshenko agreement in which she allegedly 'exceeded her powers' resulting in her imprisonment for seven years. Previously the 2010 Russian/Ukrainian Naval Base for Gas treaty, the 'Kharkiv Accord', was also also based on the 2009 deal.

According to Putin: "The gas contract signed with the Ukrainian government led by Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was economically feasible, and the deal's price setting formula was the same as the one applied to all of the consumers in Europe, Russian President Vladimir Putin said at a press conference on Thursday.

"We actively worked with the Ukrainian government headed by Tymoshenko as well. We worked very vigorously in all the areas. By the way, it was her government that signed the gas contract then. And I have always thought that this contract is absolutely economically feasible," he said.

This contract fully complied with "our practice of work with other foreign partners," Putin said.

"Its price setting formula is the same as the one that is valid for all of our consumers in Europe. One should not imagine anything else there," he said.

This contract was "not designed to strangle anyone," the president said. [From link above]

Yet Tymoshenko has been in detention over two years....a  victim of political persecution instigated by Yanukovych.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russia's most prominent political prisoner, having been imprisoned for over 10 years,  may be pardoned soon by Putin. Yanukovych should take note of this and release Yulia Tymoshenko too.

I watched president Yanukovych's televised press conference this afternoon. The last time I saw such a flat delivery and such boring drudgery was in latter decades of the last century in Communist Poland. . If I were a young, ambitious enthusiastic, entrepreneurial Ukrainian I would have been deeply depressed by it all.

Yanukovych hardly spoke about creating an environment for encouraging economic growth, aid for small business start-ups, tax breaks or easy credit for high tech companies, attracting foreign investment, simplifying labyrinthine regulations which currently allow state officials to rake in kick-backs, tackling corruption in the higher echelons of government etc.

Instead he just stuck to describing major infrastructure projects - exactly the kind where his Party of Regions' oligarch pals can fix tenders and skim off vast sums before stashing them in exotic off-shore banks.

Curiously, he dodged a question whether he would be standing for re-election as president after his first term, hinting that one term might be enough for him.

“If my rating is, figuratively speaking, low and I have no prospects, I will not be disturbing the country’s development and move forward,” he said

In contrast, most western leaders would have replied: "I need a second term to complete my vision for the country - to complete the job I was elected to do - We are making good progress in difficult circumstances...I am confident that the electorate will support me, my policies are already bearing fruit..." and so on.

The reply he gave will surely reduce confidence and trust in him amongst his own ranks even further..

He struck me as being rather bored and tired of having to explain everything and of having to answer banal 'dolly drop' questions. [In my part of the world a soft ball gently thrown to a small child is called a 'dolly drop']

After meeting Yanukovych recently, British Prime Minister David Cameron [allegedly] said: "He's from a different civilization. He's not a partner for Europe at all."

Having watched Yanukovych's performance I have to agree..

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Loans from IMF and EU would have been much more difficult to steal

Tonight there are credible reports that the EU would have provided Ukraine with a transparent financial support package more or less equivalent to that which Putin apparently proposed to Yanukovych a couple of days ago.

For many months it has been quite apparent that Yanukovych was not negotiating in good faith with the EU. The ridiculous nonsense of attempting to change the law in parliament to enable Yulia Tymoshenko to be released for medical treatment abroad was merely confirmation of this.

At the beginning of December Putin and Yanukovych had a secret meeting and reached agreement on future economic ties between their two countries, in particular concerning gas purchases and loans to prop up Ukraine's ailing economy.

As will all Russia-Ukraine gas deals struck in recent years, true details will never be known..they are arranged on the principle of 'Ponyatiyka' - gang-land verbal agreements.

The latest deal will set up the president's "Family" as an intermediary in the Russian/Ukrainian gas trade - enabling them, and Russian 'partners' to skim off hundreds of millions of dollars every year - hence the 'cheap' gas.

'Vetek' linked to Yanukovych's "Wizard of Gaz", Serhiy Kurchenko  will replace the infamous RUE, [much to the annoyance of Dmitro Firtash].

But most sadly of all: loans granted to Ukraine, from whatever source, will be totally wasted unless they are linked to solid reforms, and their use closely scrutinised..

Any loan from Russia will quickly wind up in the pockets of Ukrainian and Russian kleptocratic politicians and oligarchs. Ukraine's citizens will be saddled with debt repayments for years to come..

Monday, December 16, 2013

Between a rock and a hard place

For yet another weekend the Maidan has witnessed gigantic meetings attended, by well over 1/4 million people maybe many more, on both Saturday and Sunday. Watching the emotional speeches on a live video link, it felt like a historic event. And it is likely Maydan will maintain its existence for weeks to come.

Observers consider it to be the "last battle, the last stand of Ukraine's middle classes...'; if it fails Ukraine could become another Belarus.

All Maidan can do is sit tight and settle down for the long haul. Opposition parties, although in good heart, do not have the necessary power to influence the country's future, unless they win a future elections.

So, in the next few days the fate of the country will be decided by a handful of the richest oligarchs, the Akhmetovs, Pinchuks, Kolomoyskys and Firtashes, and the several dozen Party of Regions parliamentary deputies they control.

For these mega-rich oligarchs money is never enough. Reputation and status abroad, rubbing shoulders with the world's richest people is most important. Pressure by the USA and the EU on them - the possibility of losing access to these countries really hits them hard, hence their recent statements calling on peaceful conflict resolution in Ukraine.

Yanukovych is caught between a rock and a hard place. He cannot go meet Putin on Tuesday with his head held high whilst is Maidan in place...any major deal the pair make will not have much validity if the president Yanukovych's chair is wobbling under him.

But Maidan can only be removed by extreme force. When a heavy-handed previous unsuccessful attempt was made to do this three normally 'fire-proof' loyalists have been jettisoned and have had to pay the price, even though everyone knows orders came from the very top. Others, therefore, will be more reluctant to do the president's dirty work in future as a result. And if Yanukovych does try to solve his problem using extreme force and declares martial law he knows the assets of major oligarchs, of which he is now one, located in western banks will be under significant threat. Similar warnings have been expressed by the USA.

General strikes and further chaos would inevitably follow. There would be a risk to the integrity of the country itself.

The oligarchs, and Party of Regions deputies have some big decisions to make. They are to attend an extraordinary party meeting Monday - there are credible rumours that over 100 are now willing to approve the sacking the cabinet of ministers..

On Tuesday, one likely outcome of the Putin/Yanukovych meeting will be some kind of deal on gas...and  Ukraine's gas transport system transferred to a [Ukr/Russian/EU?] gas consortium.

An [over?] optimistic prediction could follow this scenario: Several dozen PoR deputies could support a campaign to dump PM Azarov, and perhaps the Minister of the Interior.  A cabinet of national salvation could be formed and perhaps even a parliamentary vote could achieve a constitutional 2/3 majority to curtail the president's powers back to those of 2004 .

Armed with these changes, the country could turn to the IMF for an emergency, much needed loan, and the signing of the Association Agreement with the EU could be wrapped up as quickly as possible.

Yanukovych's decision making has been dangerously haphazard these last few weeks. So maybe wiser heads in PoR will rein him in..we will see..

p.s. The anti-maidan organised by PoR was a rather pitiful sight. But the few who agreed to speak to reporters did make valid points. It will be they, workers from factories in the eastern part of the country, who lose their jobs if the Kremlin continues its embargo on Ukrainian produce. Only Petro Poroshenko mentioned this on Maidan today. He considered the probable 'hit' to the Ukrainian economy  by Russia's embargo was exaggerated, and that Ukraine/Russian trade would inevitably pick up and return to previous levels.

 And only one speaker, firebrand journalist/activist Tetyana Chornovol, bothered to mention Yulia Tymoshenko...good for her. Without Tymoshenko there would have been no Yushchenko victory in 2004, and Ukraine could have looked completely different to what it looks like now..Chornovol herself is facing criminal charges and arrest. Like Tymoshenko, the brave Chornovol said she will not run and hide....

p.p.s. Scott is absolutely correct - corruption is rotting Ukraine from within. If the country joins the Eurasian Customs Union and Yanukovych joins its club of dictators there is no hope of the situation improving. If Ukraine does choose a western vector, then at least there is a little hope, maybe just a little, that the corruption problem can be tackled. I guess this is what motivates the brave guys on Maidan. Its the last hope.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Some random things

Levko has his usual exceptional insights on this but here are some random things picked up over the past couple of days:

--Azarov said the government didn’t use force on the square Dec. 11th. I guess he would say it was just a street cleaning. 

Notwithstanding his claims some fingers are now pointed at Popov. He’s the character who was moved into Chornevetsky’s place as mayor when he fell out of favor. The word is that Popov ordered the square cleaned (cleared? Maybe a typo? Not in Russian.) And now protestors are picketing his home.
Berkut was bused in to protect it and him.

--One man who was gassed on the square that night now swears by the stuff. He said he was stuffed up and nothing would relieve it until he got a nose full of tear gas. Best stuff for clearing out the sinuses he has ever seen.

This is bravado but it’s the kind that holds barricades.

--Pro government people are being bused in from the east and other areas. Rumor has it that some of them are government workers pressed into service. They will rally for Yanukovych. I saw what had to be a number of them when I was out. Big, burly, cocky guys in street clothes walking around in groups up near the Vauxhall.

Some think the government wants the two sides to clash. It would be street clothes clad people against street clothes clad people instead of a clash with the brutes from Berkut or those dressed in the Darth Vader helmets with shields and truncheons. They think that will be the pretext the government needs (read: optics the government needs) to clear the square. They think this weekend.

--The riot people stationed in ranks up near the president’s administration building and other places are not allowed a break to go to the bathroom. This makes for the obvious problem which many are solving by simply going in place. (And at attention I would guess.)

This creates obvious problems with wet and soiled clothes in the cold. Poor guys. And some girls. 

I think it goes to either the paranoia of those involved that they can’t let them take a break for even a couple of minutes or to the fact that they can’t get as many of these people out to do this sort of thing as they need to. That may be why they are shipping in people from outside.

Maybe it’s both.

--Some people we know who have gone down to the square recently say that the character of it has changed. A few days ago there were women and children and men of course, but the ambience was more like taking an afternoon stroll. Now it’s mostly men and they are hunkered down into what looks like something from a war zone.

--Some veterans are upset with Klitchko because they saw him speaking to someone from Berkut. They think he might be selling them all out. He probably isn’t but it highlights the fact that there is no one of any real stature down there for the opposition. That is not a good thing and it will be even more keenly felt if there is actually change in government.

--A court has ordered the Trade Union Building cleared. (It’s right next to the square.) Some thought they might try to do it last night but it didn’t happen. They thought it would be used as a pretext to clear the square.

It would be a better one than saving the Christmas tree.

The Trade Union Building’s first floor is where food is stored and prepared for those n the square. The second floor is where they have medical supplies. (Some reports say they have enough to stock a hospital.) Klitchko and his people have an office in it. 

Some observations:

--The AA agreement. Ironically, the AA agreement with the EU wouldn’t have helped Ukraine in the short term and might even have hurt. This would be true even without the threats issued by Putin et al. It is not clear how much trade there would be with the EU and the point I make with people is that you’ve got to be able to compete with European goods anyway to trade with them. Many Ukrainian goods cannot. That leaves mostly commodities and those are controlled by the usual suspects.

Russia on the other hand offers some real benefits right now. Cheaper gas and closer trade relations with a country that already buys Ukrainian products. And there wouldn’t be sanctions.

Let’s face it, the EU and the US aren’t going to pour any money into Ukraine because notwithstanding the statements of solidarity, Ukraine just isn’t that high a priority. And there probably isn’t the will under the present economic circumstances anyway. Or the money.

Besides, that sort of money has a tendency to disappear when it comes this way. Even if Yanukovych is gone they all won’t be--they control significant assets in the country.

The hope is that the AA would mean a move toward more transparency in dealings. The benefit for the regime and friends of the regime is that dealing with Russia means being able to set up all these shady kinds of transactions and companies to skim off the top. It benefits Yanukovych et al quite handsomely. They’d be vassals of Russia and that was one reason why Yanukovych played to the west even when it was against his personal interests--he could play Russian off the EU and the US and get better deals in the end. 

So signing the AA agreement would probably not have helped the country short term but it would have helped Yanukovych. Moving toward Russia would have helped the country short, short term, but Yanukovych is finding it hasn’t helped him.

--Leadership. I hate to be a wet blanket but what does the opposition do if they win? The country is in serious trouble and if there’s any money out there in the IMF for instance to help bail the country out, which is a big if, it would come with pretty strict demands to overhaul the budget in ways that will affect social payments here. They will have to deal with this anyway even without any bailout money from abroad and that’s going to pit them against the very people who have taken to the barricades. They could win the war only to find people taking to the streets again when the budget cuts come.

This will be tough for someone with credibility but there is no one in the opposition who has very much of it. Tymoshenko has it in spades and if there is a change of government she’d be released. But her instincts are populist and that won’t sit well with the business community, the business community that has had enough of the present regime. (In a number of ways this is a small business revolt.)

Vilify them and restrict them if you want to but they employ people and good jobs are needed here--lots of them.  A good business climate would also encourage international investments many of which have simply pulled out because of the risks. (Both governmental and otherwise.)

--Corruption. People here want to live a more normal life like many Europeans do. The real reason for the protests is the problem of corruption. Yanukovych is corrupt. His son was not on the list of the top fifty richest people in Ukraine in 2010. Three years later, he’s number two or three. (When Yanukovych was asked about it he said his son’s been working hard. He must be exhausted.)

But the corruption problem is not simply a  problem of those on top. It is a problem throughout Ukrainian society. Some here say that that is true because people saw the bad examples of the now oligarchs who stole the country’s assets after perestroika and they wanted their piece of it. But it was a problem during the soviet days and even before that. 

It is just the way things get done here. And everybody does it. So a person might take to the barricades to protest corruption on the part of government and the elite and be at the same time on the cell phone finding someone who can get little Vanya into the right school, the right kind of position in the military (not too hard or dangerous mind) or job. And an exchange of value will be a part of that.

The police here are corrupt. (They stop cars for violations and then expect their palms to be crossed.) Education here is corrupt. (You can pay for a degree. Short of that, you can pay a teacher for grades.) And medicine is corrupt. (It’s free but it’s freer and the service is better if you pay.) These are the areas that affect the lives of Ukrainians more intimately and they know what they need to do to get the job done. And many seem happy to do it.

We in the west think that if you just jigger the institutions right, get them fine-tuned a certain way, that the problem of corruption will just melt away. And they flew in a lot of high paid consultants to do just that. For example, they revised the commercial code here into something more approximating Europe’s and they held no end of seminars about rule of law and legal institutions to support that and better judging. But after they collected their pay and flew off to some other conquest, nothing changed. Things are the same as they were before because the reference point here is not institutions or laws but relationships. 

That makes it a much tougher proposition.

--Tear gas. Some are saying that a line has been crossed with the use of tear gas. They say it has never been used on Ukrainians before. Maybe it has been but not in the memories of most of the people if it has. So Yanukovych has been responsible for doing something that has never been done before to his own people.

This is one of the reasons people are mad. And agreements signed by whoever aren’t going to make that go away.

--Palace Guard. The Berkut is now the palace guard. But not all of them. They relied on out of town Berkut to do the dirty work on the 30th. Some other units have refused.

Palace guards never work out very good.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Opposition should attend round table talks

My uncle was born at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries in what was then the Tsarist Russian town of Pinsk [now in Belarus]. Even though he died many years ago the stories which told me of his adventurous life during the Russian revolution and during  its Soviet aftermath remain vivid in my memory; they provided me with an insight into the minds of Russians and neighbouring nationalities particularly in a Soviet, Stalinist environment.

One tenet he held was that any person in authority at that time would, by default, inevitably use his status  to bully underlings; anyone showing weakness would be mercilessly exploited or crushed. To survive in such a system one has to stand up rigidly and act tough, stone-faced, whether you are the master or the underling, no matter what..or be swept away.

President Yanukovych acted in this way when he imprisoned his greatest political rival Yulia Tymoshenko and has grabbed vast assets for his 'family' and closest associates.

In recent days has ordered raiding and stealing the computer servers from the country's opposition party headquarters in order to curtail its activities.

Has tried to clear peaceful demonstrations by brutal force from the streets even whilst European and US top bananas are in the country.

Called a round table with three former Ukrainian presidents, two of whom are political corpses in hock to the president, the third, Kravchuk a cuddly old teddy bear: then conduct an cringe-making, stilted round-table 'discussion' on television about what to do to solve the current crisis.

Oh, and then, on the next day, called upon the opposition and civic leaders to attend a round table meeting 'for the good of the country'.

The MO is stereotypical - give your opponents a good kicking, then say, 'now lets have a friendly chat'.

The opposition know all of this too, so have a hard decison to make because they have to play by different rules. Their first reaction has been to decline Yanukovych's invitation and not attend Wednesday's round table....but great pressure will be applied for them change their mind by Western leaders.

Seasoned journalists allege unnamed Regiony bosses nearly 'shit their pants' when they saw the gigantic crowds in Kyiv these last two Sundays. They thought the crowds would dismantle their offices brick by brick and tear them apart...The PoR talking heads I have seen and heard are nowhere near as cock-sure as they were a week or two ago.

It is your blogger's belief that if Yanuk digs in and does not compromise in the days to come the ever-more determined crowd in the end will win out...but if he does weaken, he is finished in any case...and he knows it.

Opposition leaders should sit at the round table..they have less to lose..they should feel confident because the protests are strengthening, not weakening; the majority of Kyivans and the rest of the country are behind them..

p.s. Former president Yushchenko says he will not go to the Maidan, even though he would like to, because if he did it would look like 'self-promotion'.

Without the Maidan, and without Yulia Tymoshenko's constant support nine years ago he would never, ever have become president.

He testified against Tymoshenio in the kangaroo-court trial which sentenced her to seven years in prison for allegedly 'exceeding her authority' as  prime minister...The European Court of Human Rights are currently assessing whether Tymoshenko's rights were abused at this trial.

Everyone knows if Yushchenko went to the Maidan he would be booed off the stage..because he is a total dickhead...[sorry for lowering the tone of the blog]

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

On the ground

This has long been Levko's domain but I thought i might butt in and maybe add some things from time to time about the situation here.

The people on Maidan are declaring victory over the forces sent last night to clear the square. From what we can piece together there were clashes last night when police tried to pull down the barricades. Tear gas was used. But the word got out and people started coming to the square. This is at 4 a.m. They came by car and walked. Someof them were chanting someething like "Stand firm!" when they got there.

Whoever it was, the police or Berkut or the military (someone else might know who better) pulled back and that has allowed the people down there to declare victory.

Word has gone out now for a million people to come today. (I wouldn't be surprised if they get that many.) And they have asked for carpenters and woodworkers to come down and help replace or repair the barricades.

All this was done after the EU rep was here. Kind of like spitting in the face, no?

It is one thing to be corrupt but aother thing entirely to be corrupt and stupid. And those in power from the top to the bottom have shown themslves to be incredibly stupid in this. From the idiotic reason for calling in Berkut last Saturday ("we must protect the Christmas tree!") to the stupid comments all around coming from Azarov and company (Azarov: "There will be no payment for government workers because I have been too busy with the events down on Maidan." And Azarov has said that the west of Ukraine is agitating this thing so they won't be sending any money west. The west responded that they would just use the money they would normally send to Kiev thank you. Not bright.)

The protests on the square were never a threat. The opposition down there had no plan to unite anyone behind except to occupy the square. Pulling down the Lenin statue didn't mean anything (if that is it was by the protestors which there is some doubt about). None of this was a threat to anyone's power. None of this threatened Ukraine's financial standing. But the paranoids reacted and solidified the opposition and made people more mad and Ukraine's financial standing is threatened at a time when the government needs all the help they can get. (And goodwill.)

Yanukovich isn't Putin. He doesn't have the control of things that Putin has. But I don't think that has dawned on him. His will has become law only within a narrow segment of the elite but that is the echo chamber he has lived in.

Now he's hearing from the rest.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Hromadske.tv with English overdub

Watch 'Hromadske.tv', complete with instant overdub in [imo very good] English here:


They have several excellent journalists 'in the field' armed with video cameras providing live-streamed pictures...

p.s. Yanukovych better watch out - George Clooney has offered his support in this video to the Ukrainian demonstrators and opposition parties...

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Secret Sochi deal...and who toppled Lenin?

A couple of days ago well-known author and 'Economist' editor, Edward Lucas, tweeted that Yanuk and Putin had done a secret deal during their meeting in Sochi.

There has been no confirmation of such a deal by any other so-called respectable source.

Your blogger has frequently stated that the Kremlin will give Ukraine nothing, unless it is in exchange for a serious chunk of Ukrainian state assets, but this does not mean some kind of deal was not struck.

Sonya Koshkina in lb.ua  considers that a deal was probably made - she calls it a 'Ponyatiyka' - a gang-land verbal agreement.

Yanukovych's "Family" will act as an intermediary in the Russian/Ukrainian gas trade - enabling them to skim off hundred of millions of dollars every year - hence the 'cheap' gas. Kurchenko's 'Vetek'  will replace the infamous RUE.

However, if a Ukraine-Customs Union tie up is included in this deal, which is quite possible, then it has to be ratified in the Verkhovna Rada. Many PR deputies linked to big Ukrainian business will find great difficulty supporting such a massively dangerous move, as would many independents, particularly following today's huge demo and the turbulent events of the last three weeks..[good video here if you want to assess the numbers present]

During both the previous last two weekends attempts were made to topple the Lenin statue in Kyiv .

On both occasions the statue was securely protected by a large detail of security service personnel, and the attempts repulsed.

It was most apparent that the statue had become a 'hot' target.

Tonight an almost unprotected Lenin statue was felled by a gang of masked youths armed with a ladder, a cable, a hand winch and a big hammer.

In any normal large city, when mass protests, marches, or even mass celebrations take place, important monuments have a scaffold frame constructed around them and are securely boarded up for protection.

Why was this not done in Kyiv?

The authorities certainly had plenty of warning that it could be attacked, and had plenty of time to take remedial action..But they did nothing...

Incompetence...or collusion...or provocation?

p.s. Hundreds of witnesses who were present are willing to swear that the statue blew over of its own accord.

p.p.s. Well done guys...

Thursday, December 05, 2013

If #euromaidan flops future is bleak...

There is currently much discussion on what the Ukrainian government, the opposition, the EU, the USA, Putin etc. should do in order that the country's crisis situation can be tempered.

One thing is almost certain. As journalist Mustafa Nayem, the man who started #euromaidan,  puts it:

"..I think that if what is happening in the streets fails, a dreadful scenario awaits us. I think the purges that will pass through civil society activists, among students, among teachers, and politicians, will be worst Ukraine has ever seen. Because they will not stop.

For them it [this failure] would be a sign of the weakness of civil society and the opposition. And they will be afraid of what happened in 2004, and will do everything in their power to avoid this. Moreover, they will say, look, you are weak, you wanted to do illegal deeds."

Luckily the evidence suggests many, many Ukrainians [and also leading European politicians] feel the same way as Nayem..

p.s. This contribution in Ukraineanalysis describes the dangers of potential failure of the current Maidan..

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Sadists in the president's back yard [updated]

There is loads of video evidence showing Berkut special forces sadistically beating and kicking apprehended protesters last Sunday as they lay on the floor.

Some of these appalling incidents took place inside the grounds of the President's Administration building on Bank Street where many of the protesters had been dragged their for 'special treatment'.

The link above shows dozens of Berkut and other police personnel, perhaps even staff from the PA itself, watching on indifferently, listening to the screams and watching the blood flow. Failure to intervene makes these onlookers just as culpable for the outrages as the perpetrators.

As with any important building in any capital city, the PA building roof is well loaded with web-cams. The Berkut stormtroopers must have been sure they could act with impunity.

About four dozen or more accredited journalists have also been seriously and systematically assaulted by law enforcement officers since the recent troubles began. Some of these journalists were in the Verkhovna Rada Tuesday, continuing to do their job, interviewing deputies, including those of the ruling coalition, surrealistically, with bandages wrapped around their heads and plaster casts on their arms....

The response of the Ukrainian government and the president in whose back yard some these incidents occurred, has been pathetic.

All of this just underscores the true nature of Yanukovych and his 'banda'...and provides even greater  motivation to the demonstrators to stick to their ground...

p.s One of the features of the current troubles is the mass of video recordings being made. Pocket TV stations like hromadske.tv have been live streaming most dramatic footage from numerous journalists at various 'hot spots', some just using mobile phones. Yesterday one guy wandered behind police lines protecting parliament, live streaming what was going on, minutes before the vote of no confidence in the Cabinet of Ministers.

The was a temporary stage erected in the grounds of the Verkhovna Rada, and about 50 to 100 young guys, many hooded, in sports gear milling around, some hiding their faces. Lots of police and security guys were intermingled with them. On stage was Oleh Kalashnikov - a notorious, well known trouble-maker. Several cabinet ministers, including foreign minister Kozhara walked through these sinister youths to enter the parliament building.

Even more sinister, some of these thugs are from ministry of the interior security units based in Crimea - boxing instructors etc. Video evidence here.

More and more of these so-called 'titushky' are being assembled in Kyiv today.

Many have gathered in a city-centre park, and some of them are getting restless because they are not being allowed to leave their compounds by Party of Regions' supervisors.

The authorities are knowingly, systematically employing thuggish bands, if necessary, to intimidate opposition deputies and demonstrators...It's quite outrageous..

The potential for serious violence in Kyiv in the next few days is now very real...

Monday, December 02, 2013

Conflict resolution scenario

Following Sunday's tumultuous events in Kyiv and elsewhere my thoughts are these:

Thank goodness no-one has been killed.

It has been reported that one or two hundred demonstrators and law enforcement officers have received injuries of varying degrees, but most worryingly, several dozen of these were journalists merely doing their jobs. Nevertheless, matters have to be kept in proportion. Violence on this scale has been seen many times in other European capitals in previous years...it could have been much, much worse. [But the brutal treatment of bona fide journalists is very worrying]

What could happen next?

One possibility is suggested by OdessaTalk blog. Because of desire for quick resolution by leading oligarchs, the government in parliament may not survive a vote of no confidence as many PoR deputies jump ship.

This would be good because the heads of PM Azarov, who froze the signing of the Association Agreement, and Minister of the Interior, Zakharchenko who must take responsibility for mindless scattering of Maidan early Saturday morning triggering Sundays mass turnout, have to roll.

A reorientated parliament could reign in the powers of the president, and start running the country in a more balanced manner.

Yanukovych was planning at least two presidential terms...he might not even last one term.

The next few days are critically important...

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Party of Regions in turmoil

Putin's last meeting with Yanukovych took place in the most secret of circumstances in an unspecified location in Russia, according to some, to prevent any leaks or eavesdropping. Even senior Party of Regions figures were not informed about what was discussed.

After the debacle in Vilnius on Friday, Party of Regions, from being, by Ukrainian standards, a disciplined party, are suddenly in turmoil, e.g. as described by 'OdessaTalk' blogger.

Several PoR 'big beasts' have resigned from the party and  there are rumours 15 - 20 parliamentary deputies could go on Monday..

One of their most well known 'faces', Inna Bohoslovska, today has quite astonishingly spoken of a threat to the integrity and sovereignty of the country from Russia. She calls for the creation of a new majority in parliament, a new speaker, the dismissal of the Azarov government, calls for an extraordinary EU-Ukraine summit for the Association Agreement to be signed, and new presidential elections to be held. Otherwise she predicts bloodshed...

Head of the president's administration, Serhiy Lyovochkin has also allegedly resigned. His Inter TV station broadcast a dramatic 'ShusterLive' on Friday night, which was, temporarily brought down, when opposition leaders turned up. During the show the opposition guys were receiving text messages from Maidan, where fighting was taking place, and left. The government ministers, including deputy prime minister Vilkul, and foreign minister Kozhara were truly 'hammered'. Journalists who had been in Vilnius described the disgust expressed by European leaders behind the scenes after the non signing of the AA.

Unlike other tv channels, Lyovochkin's Inter broadcast a detailed report about the dramatic events on Maidan.

Most commentators expect another huge demo on Sunday in Kyiv..In Western Ukraine passions are running very high too.... a general strike is quite possible.

Yanukovych is scheduled to visit China on a state visit commencing 3rd December. If he goes, who knows what he will find when he returns...

So far he has given no message of hope, particularly on how the country will fare and where essential financial support will come from,  post Vilnius.