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FORMER UKRAINIAN PREMIER CALLS FOR INTERROGATION. The Ukrainian Interior Ministry has summoned former Prime Minister and current opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych for questioning on 30 May, in a criminal case connected with a directive his cabinet issued in June 2004, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service and Ukrainian news agencies reported on 26 May. Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko told journalists that Yanukovych will be questioned as a witness. "We are not working on criminal cases against citizen Yanukovych," Lutsenko added. Moreover, Interfax reported on 27 May that Yanukovych has also been called to appear at the Interior Ministry's Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast Directorate on 1 June to provide explanations in connection with a land plot he obtained for construction purposes in the region during his premiership. JM
UKRAINIAN MINISTER SUSPENDS ORDER ON REGISTRATION OF ELECTRONIC MEDIA. Transport and Communications Minister Yevhen Chervonenko on 26 May suspended for 10 days his instruction of 27 April whereby he ordered all electronic media, including Internet sites, to apply for registration with his ministry, Ukrainian media reported. Chervonenko told journalists that he wants to organize a roundtable in the ministry with all interested sides to discuss the instruction. "Nobody from the [President Viktor] Yushchenko team will force anybody to register," he added. The instruction has provoked a flood of indignant reactions and protests in Ukraine, particularly among Internet users. "This step could damage freedom of expression on the Internet. We will be watching closely to see that this registration procedure does not become obligatory for private websites," the Reporters Without Borders media watchdog said in a recent statement. JM
UKRAINIAN PREMIER VOWS TO WORK IN HARMONY WITH PRESIDENT. Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko told journalists in Kyiv on 26 May that she has agreed to work together with President Viktor Yushchenko in order to harmonize relations in the state-power system, Interfax reported. "I've had a wonderful talk with the president and I think that 99 percent of [issues] have been settled," Tymoshenko said. "Nothing will stop us from doing our business, even meteorites falling from the sky." Asked to comment on Yushchenko's proposal last week that she resign, Tymoshenko responded, "It [was] necessary to frighten Russian oil traders." Yushchenko reportedly made this proposal during a government meeting with Russian oil traders on 18 May (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 26 May 2005). JM
CHISINAU MULLS ITS TRAINS BYPASSING TRANSDNIESTER. Moldovan Transport Minister Miron Gagauz said in Chisinau on 26 May that if the situation in Transdniester does not improve, the Moldovan National Railroad Company will reorganize its train routes in order to bypass the separatist region, Infotag reported. Earlier this year, the company began bypassing Transdniester along the decades-old route from Chisinau to St. Petersburg. "We are forced, and ready, to make this step in order to spare our passengers a lot of inconveniences they encounter while traveling via Transdniester," Gagauz said. "I admit that this transport rearrangement will cause certain difficulties as regards Ukraine, as some railroad stations there have a limited train-handling capacity, but we have no other way out." Last year the Tiraspol authorities took possession of all transport facilities and infrastructure of the Moldovan National Railroad Company on their territory, set up a separate railroad company, and began demanding transit fees from Moldovan trains. JM
UKRAINIAN LEADERS CLASH OVER GASOLINE
The hottest news in Ukraine last week was not the Eurovision song contest in Kyiv -- an unusual event in this post-Soviet country by any standards. The real shocker was a report in the Kyiv-based weekly "Zerkalo nedeli" that President Viktor Yushchenko suggested that Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko should tender her resignation over her incompetence in dealing with the country's fuel crisis.
To toss even more gasoline on that fire, the report asserted that the suggestion was made "half-publicly" during a heated Yushchenko-Tymoshenko exchange at a 19 May meeting with senior executives from the Russian oil sector, including Transneft, LUKoil, and TNK-BP. Have the two heroes of the Orange Revolution already had enough of their partnership and resolved to launch an internecine war?
For the time being, it appears they have not. A string of statements from Yushchenko's and Tymoshenko's press services that followed the report on their 19 May meeting avowed that the relations between the president and the prime minister remain friendly and full of mutual trust. "I trust the prime minister, my generally positive assessment of the government's work is unaltered. Only those doing nothing make no mistakes," Yushchenko asserted in one statement. "We have found a formula to resolve the oil problem, because we have found courage in ourselves to conduct an open, public, and honest dialogue as well as to make hard and responsible decisions both within and outside [our] team," he stressed.
Moreover, on 22 May, during a solemn occasion at the grave of Ukrainian national poet Taras Shevchenko in Kaniv, Yushchenko and Tymoshenko renewed their earlier pledge to form a coalition for the 2006 parliamentary elections of Yushchenko's Our Ukraine People's Union, Tymoshenko's Fatherland Party, and the People's Party headed by parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn. "I'm sure that the Orange Revolution and the values with which we came to Kyiv's Maydan [Independence Square] truly belong to these three political forces," Yushchenko said in Kaniv. Tymoshenko added, "I support with all my soul our union, our teamwork, our joint political activity for many years ahead."
But some skeptics in Ukraine immediately recalled another election alliance made in Kaniv, by four presidential candidates during the 1999 presidential campaign (Yevhen Marchuk, Oleksandr Moroz, Volodymyr Oliynyk, and Oleksandr Tkachenko), which lasted no longer than three weeks.
What actually transpired between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko on 19 May? According to the influential and usually well-informed "Zerkalo nedeli," which attributed its information to four unnamed participants in the meeting, Yushchenko apologized to the Russian oil traders for Tymoshenko's cabinet, which, Yushchenko claimed, had obstructed their work. Yushchenko purportedly said he wished he had never appointed Tymoshenko as prime minister. He also is said to have suggested that she might tender her resignation and join the opposition Social Democratic Party-united and the Party of Regions in order to "blow their pipes and beat their drums." To add insult to injury, Yushchenko reportedly invited everyone except Tymoshenko to the next room to have champagne. All this purportedly took place after Tymoshenko categorically and repeatedly disagreed with Yushchenko's assessment that she had dealt with the fuel crisis by way of essentially administrative and non-market levers.
Leaving aside the shocking nature of the Ukrainian "family quarrel" under the Russian eyes, as "Zerkalo nedeli" put it, one could argue that Yushchenko was to a large extent correct. Gasoline prices began to rise in Ukraine in early April, presumably stimulated by a more than 50 percent rise in the price of crude oil, a 30 percent increase in the excise tax, and increased tariffs for rail transport. Tymoshenko ordered in mid-April that prices for gasoline be stabilized at a level below 3 hryvnyas ($0.6) per liter. Simultaneously, the Ukrainian Economic Ministry warned Russian oil companies that it would guarantee their property rights for Ukraine's refineries only if they agreed to cut retail fuel prices -- which they did. But following the cuts, some Russian-owned refineries in Ukraine significantly decreased their daily output or halted it altogether for "planned repairs." As a result, Ukrainians saw long lines at gasoline stations run by LUKoil and TNK-BP, some of which reportedly introduced rationing.
Seeking more market-oriented methods to defuse the fuel crisis, the government hurriedly drafted a bill to abolish import duties on fuel; the Verkhovna Rada equally hurriedly passed the legislation earlier this month. The aim of the legislation is twofold -- to stop fuel prices from rising, and to create a more competitive environment for fuel imports from refineries not owned by Russians, notably from Lithuania and Romania. And the law seems to be working, at least for the time being. Fuel prices have now been fixed at 3.2 hryvnyas, 3 hryvnyas, and 2.85 hryvnyas per liter of A-95 gasoline, A-92 gasoline, and diesel fuel, respectively. And some suppliers have begun looking for Lithuanian fuel.
On the other hand, Tymoshenko's arguing that the fuel crisis was a "plot" by Russian oil traders to destabilize the government that is not liked by the Kremlin, seems to convince many Ukrainians as well. A poll conducted by the Razumkov Center among some 700 Kyiv residents last week found that more than 50 percent of respondents attributed the fuel crisis to "Russia's economic pressure as a means of influence on Ukraine's policy," according to "Zerkalo nedeli." That should come as no surprise, not only because of the popular belief in Ukraine that Russia is to blame for most of Ukraine's political and economic troubles but also because of the situation on the Ukrainian fuel market.
Russian oil traders control 75 percent of fuel supplies to Ukraine, which effectively creates an informal foreign cartel that can easily coordinate its pricing policies in Ukraine not only to secure higher margins but also to achieve other economic or political objectives, especially when such policies are consecrated by "market rules." Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview with "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 23 May that Russian companies need to apply market-based pricing policies in the export of energy resources. Referring specifically to Georgia and Ukraine, Putin said it is necessary to find "transparent, market tools for interaction" with these countries. But Putin singled out Belarus, saying it is an exception in Russia's market-based export policy, since, the Russian president explained, "We are trying to find a way to build a union state with Belarus." This seems to be a circuitous way of saying what Tymoshenko essentially, and less diplomatically, said about the roots of Ukraine's fuel crisis.
"There is no Russian conspiracy here [in the fuel crisis]," Yushchenko said at a business forum in Kyiv on 25 May. "I demand only one thing of the government: Learn lessons like that of oil markets." To which, according to Reuters, Tymoshenko, who sat alongside him, responded: "May my president forgive me."
But an equally essential question here is whether she has forgiven Yushchenko for his words during last week's meeting with Russian oil traders -- for what seemed to be a severe blow to her self-worth if not an outright humiliation. The answer to this question might also include an answer to the question about the viability of the current political establishment in Ukraine.
KARABAKH OFFICIAL SAYS UKRAINIAN OFFER OF PEACEKEEPERS 'PREMATURE.' Masis Mailian, who is foreign minister of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, has dismissed as premature any discussion of Ukraine's offer to send a peacekeeping contingent to the Karabakh conflict zone, according to PanARMENIAN.net on 26 May as cited by Groong. Mailian recalled that under an agreement adopted at the CSCE Budapest summit in 1994, the dispatch of peacekeepers to the region is contingent on the signing of a formal peace agreement and must be approved by all three sides in the conflict. During talks in Baku on 19 May with Azerbaijani parliament speaker Murtuz Alesqerov, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk said Kyiv is prepared to "provide assistance" in resolving the Karabakh conflict by sending a peacekeeping detachment to the region, Interfax reported. Also on 26 May, Azerbaijan's defense minister, Colonel General Safar Abiev, met in Baku with the French co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, Bernard Fassier, Turan reported. LF
GEORGIA MARKS INDEPENDENCE ANNIVERSARY. Some 11,500 servicemen participated in a military parade in Tbilisi on 26 May to mark the anniversary of Georgia's 1918 declaration of independence, Georgian and international agencies reported. In an anniversary address, President Mikheil Saakashvili said that Georgia's Rose Revolution in November 2003 served as the catalyst for subsequent regime change in Ukraine, the Middle East and Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reported. He stressed that Georgia wants peaceful and friendly relations with all neighboring states, including Russia, but added that such relations are contingent on Russia's respect for Georgia's territorial integrity. Saakashvili also stressed his intention to bring the breakaway unrecognized republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia back under the control of the central Georgian government, and he pledged that "we will succeed" in celebrating a future Independence Day anniversary in Sukhum(i), the Abkhaz capital. LF