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KAZAKH FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS PIPELINE IS A TOP PRIORITY IN RELATIONS WITH UKRAINE. Qasymzhomart Toqaev told his Ukrainian counterpart Konstyantyn Hryshchenko in Astana on 4 November that the completion of the Ukrainian Odessa-Brody oil pipeline and its extension to the Polish port of Gdansk is a top priority in Kazakh-Ukrainian relations, Kazinform and khabar.kz reported. Hryshchenko heard a similar message from Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev the same day. Both Toqaev and Nazarbaev assessed the current state of bilateral relations in the oil-and-gas sphere positively. Kazakhstan is hoping to use the Odessa-Brody pipeline to export oil to Europe (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August 2003 and 10 October 2003). Toqaev noted that the extension of the pipeline to Poland is also in the European Union's development plans. BB
END NOTE: HARD LESSONS FOR 'OUR UKRAINE' IN DONETSK xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION ACCUSES AUTHORITIES OF THWARTING PARLIAMENT... Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko charged on 4 November that authorities have began obstructing the work of the Verkhovna Rada in order to prompt a change in its leadership, Interfax reported. Yushchenko was commenting on the early closure of the parliamentary session the same day after the legislature failed to support an opposition motion to hear government officials report on the foiled Our Ukraine congress in Donetsk (see End Note below). After that motion was voted down (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 November 2003), lawmakers from Our Ukraine, the Socialist Party, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc blocked the parliamentary rostrum. Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz backed Yushchenko's position, saying the parliamentary majority was instructed by the presidential administration to reject the motion and thus block the work of the legislature. JM
...WHILE PRO-GOVERNMENT PARTY ALLEGES THE OPPOSITE. The Political Executive Council of Premier Viktor Yanukovych's Labor Party issued a statement on 4 November saying that Our Ukraine took advantage of the "no" vote on the Our Ukraine congress to implement a "radical plan of political destabilization in Ukraine," Interfax reported. "Blocking the parliamentary work, undermining the budget process, dissolving the Verkhovna Rada, holding early parliamentary elections -- these are main stages of [Our Ukraine's] strategic plan to come to power," the statement charges. "The struggle of Viktor Yushchenko and his team for the post of president has been deliberately moved to parliament." JM
SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO'S PRESIDENT IN KYIV. Serbia and Montenegro President Svetozar Marovic met with his Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kuchma in Kyiv on 4 November, Interfax and UNIAN reported. Following their talks, the sides signed accords on military cooperation and tourism. Kuchma said he favors signing an agreement with Serbia and Montenegro on a free-trade zone and simplifying the visa formalities between the two countries. "The introduction by the EU of a visa regime [with Ukraine] is one of the most negative steps taken after the Berlin Wall was brought down," Kuchma said during a news conference. JM
HARD LESSONS FOR 'OUR UKRAINE' IN DONETSK
The Our Ukraine bloc led by Viktor Yushchenko failed to hold a congress of democratic forces in Donetsk as planned on 31 October. After arriving in Donetsk that day, Yushchenko and his supporters were confronted by hostile crowds at the airport and in downtown Donetsk in what looked like a highly coordinated effort to prevent the Our Ukraine gathering and to fan anti-Yushchenko sentiment in the city.
The entire city was adorned with billboards showing Yushchenko in a Nazi uniform extending his hand in a Nazi salute and calling for the "purity of the nation." Some 1,500 mainly young and drunk people filled the planned venue and effectively prevented Our Ukraine from holding the congress. Neither the police nor officers of the Security Service did anything to stop them.
Yushchenko accused the presidential administration in Kyiv of organizing this obstruction but, judging by many press reports on what happened in Donetsk on 31 October, the truth might be more complex.
Yushchenko, 49, is Ukraine's most popular politician and a sure contender in the presidential election that is expected to be held on 31 October 2004. He has very strong support in western Ukraine and quite good backing in the center of the country, but only scanty support in eastern regions such as Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, and Luhansk. These are overwhelmingly Russian-speaking regions, where people treat "Ukrainian-speaking nationalists" from western Ukraine with distrust, to say the least.
Yushchenko, though he was born in Sumy Oblast in northeastern Ukraine and avoids any radicalism on the sensitive language issue, is nevertheless perceived in the traditionally pro-Russian eastern Ukraine as a "nationalist." The congress in Donetsk was intended to change this image and allow Yushchenko to gain a foothold in the region, which is controlled both economically and politically by a group of oligarchs known as the Donetsk clan.
Neither President Leonid Kuchma nor Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych (a member of the Donetsk clan) are interested in allowing Yushchenko to become president in 2004. Kuchma, who is forbidden by the constitution from running for a third consecutive term, is now confronted with the difficult task of finding a successor that could guarantee him a quiet retirement. Obviously, Yushchenko is not his choice.
Yanukovych, according to many observers, might be harboring presidential ambitions himself. Therefore, it is no wonder that both the presidential administration headed by Social Democratic Party-united leader Viktor Medvedchuk and Yanukovych might be vitally interested in preventing Yushchenko from reaching the electorate in Ukraine. A confidential instruction by the presidential administration to the heads of oblast administrations (governors) -- which was published by some Ukrainian newspapers and presented personally by Yushchenko on RFE/RL on 31 October -- obliges governors to take countermeasures to "minimize the public and political resonance" of democratic forums organized by Our Ukraine in their regions. The events in Donetsk on 31 October, according to many observers, developed in accordance with this instruction.
According to many Ukrainian publications, including the "Ukrayinska pravda" website and the "Grani" weekly, the plan of "countermeasures" against Yushchenko in Donetsk was coordinated by Donetsk Oblast Council head Borys Kolesnykov, Donetsk Oblast Governor Anatoliy Bliznyuk, and Donetsk Oblast Deputy Governor Vasyl Dzharta. The entire "anti-Yushchenko operation" was also allegedly supported by Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine's richest oligarch, whom many call the "real boss" of Donetsk and the backbone of the Donetsk clan.
The anti-Yushchenko groups in Donetsk consisted mainly of students from colleges and vocational-training schools and outdoor-market vendors. Some of the students were reportedly paid 20-40 hryvnyas ($3.75-$7.50) for participating in the anti-Yushchenko action. Most of them were treated to free beer and, to a lesser extent, free vodka. Vendors were reportedly released from paying market fees for three days. Additionally, they were threatened that they would lose their market stalls if they failed to appear at the rally.
Every group of 10-15 anti-Yushchenko demonstrators had a "leader" -- usually a young man with a shaved head -- who told them what anti-Yushchenko slogans to shout and when. The weekly "Grani" called these young men "Akhmetovjugend," but did not provide more details about their organizational affiliation.
"All who are today involved in politics and want to feel spicy sensations, while not anticipating the reaction of the Ukrainian people to this, should most likely secure themselves with pampers instead of engaging themselves in politics," Prime Minister Yanukovych commented on the Donetsk events, adding that Our Ukraine forgot to "measure the temperature" in the city before it went to hold a congress there.
Ukrainian commentators perceive this comment as Yanukovych's unambiguous approval for how the Donetsk authorities welcomed Yushchenko in the city. Moreover, according to some reports that were later corroborated by Yushchenko, the firm that placed billboards with the Our Ukraine leader in a Nazi uniform belongs to Yanukovych's son. At first glance, it might appear that Yanukovych emerged as the winner of this clash with Yushchenko in Donetsk, which has been seen by many as an unofficial inauguration of the 2004 presidential election campaign in Ukraine.
However, some aspects of the anti-Yushchenko hullabaloo in Donetsk might be extremely uncomfortable with Yanukovych as a potential rival of Yushchenko in the presidential election. For example, many anti-Yushchenko demonstrators waved Russian flags and shouted insulting remarks about the Ukrainian language. These two things alone, even apart from the heavy-handed orchestration of "popular protest" in Donetsk against Yushchenko, hardly present Yanukovych in a positive light, as a potential leader to be accepted by most Ukrainians. After all, a national leader should not be associated with any denigration of the indigenous language or culture of the country he runs or seeks to run.
Thus, it seems that someone, either in the Donetsk clan or in the presidential administration, intentionally "overstretched" the anti-Yushchenko protest in Donetsk "in the eastern direction" in order to harm Yanukovych's chances of being chosen by Kuchma as a successor.
Yushchenko's lesson from Donetsk is bitter. Some even speculated that Yushchenko might be able to strike a deal with the Donetsk oligarchs ahead of the presidential election. For example, they could support his presidential bid, while he, after being elected president, would appoint a prime minister proposed by them. Now it is clear that Yushchenko and the Donetsk oligarchs are at war, and he cannot count on tapping their financial resources or using their political clout in eastern Ukraine.
Our Ukraine's alliance with a political force that is not seen in eastern Ukraine as a "nationalist" and/or "anti-Russian" now seems to be a must if Yushchenko wants to be a serious presidential rival to the candidate fielded by the "party of power" and the oligarchs. Since Our Ukraine's election alliance with the Communist Party of Petro Symonenko seems to be one of the least-probable political developments in Ukraine, one should now expect a warming of relations between Yushchenko and Oleksandr Moroz, leader of the Socialist Party of Ukraine.