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END NOTE: UKRAINIAN POLITICAL CRISIS COMES TO BLOWS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
MINSK DENIES SEEKING EU FAVOR WITH RELEASE OF TWO POLITICAL PRISONERS. Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Papou told journalists on May 24 that the early release of opposition leaders Mikalay Statkevich and Pavel Sevyarynets from prison (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 23, 2007) was not intended to persuade the European Union to preserve trade benefits to Belarus, Belapan reported. "We have never haggled with anyone.... We proceed from the assumption that Belarus is a law-governed state, and what happens in the country is in accordance with regulations currently in force," Papou said. Meanwhile, Jean-Eric Holzapfel, the first counselor at the European Commission's Kyiv-based delegation to Ukraine and Belarus, told Belapan that the prisoners' release on parole will not influence the EU's decision on whether to suspend Belarus's trade benefits under the bloc's Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). Statkevich and Sevyarynets in May 2005 were each sentenced to three years in prison for staging a series of unauthorized demonstrations in Minsk in the fall of 2004 against the official results of the 2004 parliamentary elections and referendum. Both Statkevich and Sevyarynets linked their early release to an upcoming EU decision on whether to deny GSP benefits to Belarus. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT FIRES PROSECUTOR-GENERAL... President Viktor Yushchenko on May 24 dismissed Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun, just one month after reinstating him in office (see End Note), Ukrainian media reported. At a news conference later the same day, Yushchenko said he sacked Piskun because the latter failed to give up his parliamentary seat within 20 days after his appointment, as stipulated by law. "It has been 28 days since Svyatoslav Piskun was appointed prosecutor-general on April 24. The issue [of Piskun's resignation from parliament] has not been resolved. Political activities continue at the prosecutor's office," Yushchenko said. He continued: "Why hasn't the presidential decree on early elections been carried out? Because the cabinet is not carrying it out. Why isn't the cabinet carrying out the presidential decree? Because the Prosecutor-General's Office is not working." Piskun called his dismissal illegal and pledged to defy it. "I wrote a request asking to resign as a member of parliament and sent it to the Verkhovna Rada within the term prescribed by the law," Piskun told journalists. "You understand that [the dismissal] is absolutely illegitimate and even absurd. Everybody knows that I wrote the request, all staff members know that," he said. JM
...AS SECURITY OFFICERS SCUFFLE IN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL'S OFFICE. Prosecutor-General Piskun was informed of his dismissal by Valeriy Heletey, head of the State Protection Directorate (UDO), who came to Piskun's office on May 24 with a group of UDO officers, Ukrainian media reported. Piskun initially left his office, but then changed his mind and, accompanied by a group of ruling coalition lawmakers, forced his way back amid scuffles between his bodyguards and UDO officers. More altercations followed when Interior Minister Vasyl Tsushko arrived at the Prosecutor-General's Office with a riot-police unit. Tsushko compared Yushchenko's decision to remove Piskun from office to a "coup d'etat." Valentyn Nalyvaychenko, the acting head of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), which is believed to be loyal to the president, said later the same day that he rules out the use of force in dealing with Piskun's dismissal. "There will be no violent solution to the problem. Alpha [SBU special forces] will not be called in. The problem will be resolved within the legal framework," Interfax-Ukraine quoted Nalyvaychenko as saying. The Prosecutor-General's Office is now cordoned off by Interior Ministry servicemen. On May 25, some 3,000 activists of the ruling Party of Regions and the Communist Party held an anti-Yushchenko rally in front of the Prosecutor-General's Office. JM
MACEDONIAN TO HEAD UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY. A former foreign minister of Macedonia, Srgjan Kerim, was on May 24 elected to head the UN's General Assembly, local and international media reported the same day. Kerim served as a minister in the former Yugoslavia, as well as Macedonia's foreign minister in 2000-01. However, he has spent most of the past 13 years as an ambassador, in Germany, Switzerland, and at the UN from 2001 to 2003. Since then, he has chiefly headed the Southeastern Europe operations of the WAZ Media Group, one of Germany's largest publishing companies. Kerim said he will use his one year in the post to push for more effective multilateralism, arguing that "the major challenges of our times transcend borders. Globalization, climate change, terrorism, immigration, and sustainable development cannot be entirely solved within national borders, or at the regional level." The last president from a postcommunist country was a Czech, Jan Kavan, who took up the post in 2002. Since 1989, the presidency has also been occupied by a Bulgarian, Stoyan Ganev (1992), and a Ukrainian, Hennadiy Udovenko (1997). AG
...AS U.S. OFFICIALS ARE BARRED FROM TRANSDNIESTER. Guards on Transdniester's de facto border with Moldova on May 23 prevented three U.S. diplomats from reaching Tiraspol, where they planned to attend an OSCE meeting. The news agency Basa reported on May 23 that the incident is the fifth time this month that U.S. officials have been barred from entering the breakaway region. The guards reportedly gave no reason. The United States has no formal role in the resolution of the Transdniester conflict, though, like the EU, it is an observer in five-way talks between Transdniester, Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE. Multilateral talks were last held in February 2006, at which point Transdniester withdrew. AG
UKRAINIAN POLITICAL CRISIS COMES TO BLOWS
On May 24, President Viktor Yushchenko fired Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun. Piskun initially left his office, but then changed his mind and forced his way back in, amid scuffles pitting his bodyguards against officers of the State Protection Directorate. More scuffles followed when Interior Minister Vasyl Tsushko arrived at the Prosecutor-General's Office with a riot-police unit. Tsushko was later quoted as saying that a "coup d'etat" has been initiated in Ukraine by the president.
The appointment of Piskun to the post of prosecutor-general by Yushchenko on April 24 came as a surprise to many in Ukraine. Piskun held the post twice already, in 2002-03 and 2004-05. In 2005, he was fired by none other than Yushchenko, who was reportedly displeased with Piskun's handling of major criminal cases.
Why, then, did Yushchenko appoint Piskun once again? Some say it was because Piskun protested his 2005 dismissal in court and won a protracted case against presidential lawyers. According to this line of reasoning, in reinstating Piskun Yushchenko simply obeyed the law.
But since Piskun's return to the Prosecutor-General's Office took place amid a bitter political standoff between the president on one side and the prime minister and parliament on the other, it seems that Yushchenko wanted Piskun to help him enforce his decree dissolving the Verkhovna Rada and calling for new elections.
Yushchenko indirectly confirmed that this version of Piskun's comeback was more likely when he accused Piskun of pursuing "political activities" instead of "working."
"Political activities continue at the prosecutor's office," Yushchenko said at a news conference on May 24, where he explained his reason for sacking Piskun. "Why isn't the presidential decree on early elections being carried out? Because the cabinet is not carrying it out. Why isn't the cabinet carrying out the presidential decree? Because the Prosecutor-General's Office is not working." Thus, Piskun seems to have disappointed Yushchenko to a great extent.
The formal reason for the dismissal was Piskun's failure to give up his parliamentary seat within 20 days after his appointment, as stipulated by law. Piskun said his sacking was illegal, explaining that he filed his resignation from parliament earlier this month. But since Piskun formally remains a lawmaker, it appears that Yushchenko's move is legally defensible.
Piskun's forcible reentry into his office, during which officers of the pro-presidential State Protection Directorate and the pro-government Interior Ministry scuffled with each other, has obviously exacerbated the political crisis in Ukraine.
Yuliya Tymoshenko, head of the eponymous political bloc and a Yushchenko ally, revealed to journalists on May 24 that the previous day, President Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych reached an agreement on the date of early parliamentary elections. She suggested that the incident at the Prosecutor-General's Office was intended to derail this agreement.
Later the same day, Yushchenko also confirmed this news, but he suggested that the agreement was blocked in the anticrisis working group, which was set up by him and Yanukovych in early May to prepare necessary bills and documents for launching snap elections.
After the May 24 incident in the Prosecutor-General's Office, reaching an agreement on early polls seems to have become an even more difficult task than it was before.
On May 25, Yushchenko issued a decree canceling the subordination of the riot police to the Interior Ministry and resubordinating them to the president.
The same day, Viktor Shemchuk, whom Yushchenko appointed as acting prosecutor-general to replace Piskun, said he has opened a criminal case against Interior Minister Tsushko for exceeding his authority. Meanwhile, the Prosecutor-General's Office remains cordoned off by Interior Ministry forces, while Piskun claims he is still in charge there.
The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), which is believed to be loyal to the president, also opened an investigation on May 25 into Tsushko's intervention in the Prosecutor-General's Office. Additionally, the SBU summoned for interrogation Judge Valeriy Pshenichnyy. Yushchenko dismissed Pshenichnyy along with two other judges from the Constitutional Court nearly a month ago, accusing them of violating their oaths of office. But the three judges have reportedly had their dismissals revoked by court decisions and still participate in sessions of the Constitutional Court, which is examining the constitutionality of Yushchenko's decree of April 26 to dismiss parliament and call for new elections.
However, despite these developments, which have evidently worsened the political climate in Ukraine, optimists assert that the conflict will be resolved very soon. Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko expressed his conviction on May 24 that the scenes of riot policemen breaking into Piskun's office, which were filmed and subsequently broadcast nationally, will have a sobering effect on both warring politicians and ordinary Ukrainians.
Former SBU head Yevhen Marchuk said on May 25 that the lack of agreement between Yushchenko and Yanukovych is primarily due to "radicals" who, Marchuk added, are in both the Yushchenko and Yanukovych camps and want "more radical" methods for resolving the crisis. Marchuk did not mention any names.
It seems that one such "radical" may be the Socialist Party, which is clearly not interested in having preterm elections. According to all sociological surveys, the Socialists currently have no chance of overcoming the 3 percent voting threshold that qualifies for parliamentary representation. In other words, early elections might mean the Socialist Party's political demise.
Additionally, Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz, who is also parliament speaker, may feel offended by the fact that Yushchenko publicly ignores him and discusses the crisis only with Yanukovych. Therefore, it can be argued that the May 24 action in the Prosecutor-General's Office by Interior Minister Tsushko, who belongs to the Socialist Party, was motivated not only by his sense of official duty but also by party politics.
However, regardless of whether the fight between security officers in the Prosecutor-General's Office was purely accidental or intentionally orchestrated, it seems that the Ukrainian political class has now approached a line that cannot be crossed without plunging the country into political turmoil with unpredictable consequences. President Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yanukovych now face the toughest test of their political careers.