Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Today's Agreements and Disagreements with Politics and Pundits in Ukraine and the US

+/-- An interesting British television report on the gas crisis (via abdymok, thanx!) that makes some of the points that I have made about the gas deal, but in a way that I would not have here.
The reports is a bit too harsh on Yushchenko; much too trusting of Tymoshenko (I may agree with her points, but she has now become a person of ambition, not principle, in my eyes, and so listening to her, I think to myself, "Ok, yeah, yeah, yeah. . .); and where the hell did they get the rankings that rated the Ukrainian people as the most miserable on earth today?

The report in the end is way too pessimistic, rather given to journalistic hyperbole for the sake of good story. There have been significant, positive changes in the last year for which the YuGov does deserve credit. But I do agree with the report's author to the effect that Yushchenko handled Putin's Russia in too meak a way during the gas crisis. It is good for Ukraine to move away from "feudal barter schemes," but in this way? By being bullied by Russia and involving questionable companies?

+ Kyiv Post op ed
here calling for Ukraine's elite to make clear why RusUkrEnergo is necessary.

- I am not at all surprised that I disagree with yet another Kyiv Post editorial
(I am 50-50 about this paper's editorials), this one dealing with the language issue in Ukraine.

There is no way that Ukrainian will ever gain the proper ground that it deserves in the country without the involvement of the state. But the people at the Kyiv Post tend to be very anti-State, laissez-faire capitalist in the main. The market will work things out. No one should be made to speak or understand Ukrainian.

The market will never work things out in favor of the Ukrainian language, at least not for now. Ukrainian language versions of the same Western books are more expensive than the Russian translations because the Russian book market is bigger and Russian-language publishers have more capital. Ukraine can get its Russian language variants from Russia. The only way for this to change is either for the Ukrainian government to subsidize Ukrainian bookpublishing, or to make mandates. The situation is similar regarding the import of Western films to Ukraine. It's easier and cheaper to get to movie theaters, and onto DVD, Hollywood films dubbed in Russian from Russia, than to have them dubbed in Ukrainian. So either subsidize a Ukrainian film-dubbing industry, or mandate that 70% of Western films must come to Ukraine dubbed in Ukrainian. SO what if there is a black market? There already is one. At least more films will be coming out in Ukrainian, and films in movie theaters will be in Ukrainian, too. Wow!

Being pro-Ukrainian language is not anti-Russian; it is merely to ask that the government do something so that those in Ukraine whose primary language is Russian learn to speak, read, write, and understand Ukrainian as well as those whose primary language is Ukrainian can do all those things in Russian. Only an activist state will ever break the market deadlock on Russian variants.

But back to the movie theaters: the importers of Western films to Ukraine could do what they do in Latvia does. There is no dubbing of Western films in theaters. Western films are played in their original languages with BOTH Russian and Latvian subtitles. If a tiny country of barely 2.3 million people (33% of whose population is Russian, and maybe up to 40% of whose population uses Russian as its primary language) can manage to do this, Ukraine certianly can. But the state must mandate it, as it does in Latvia. Sure there are lots of Russian-language DVDs that are cheaper than Latvian ones, but the movies in theaters are in the subtitled in the NATIONAL as well as the second most common language, and this makes a big difference; and there are, albeit more expensive, Latvian versions that are at least available to a much greater degree than one can find Ukrainian versions in Ukraine. So the next step would be to subsidize the Latvian (or our Ukrainian) versions.

But the Kyiv Post folks would probably regard the Latvian language laws as illiberal.

- Bush's State of the Union Address, rush transcript: I'm gonna spy on you because I, just like Nixon, believe in a system that is drunk on and based on abuse of executive power. (By the way, I quite admire what Putin is up to within his own country; as I once said, "there is no doubt that dictatorship would be easier." The press thought I was joking, but secretly I wasn't. Putin's executive power-drunk behavior has consitutional legitimacy over there in Russia, and well, our Patriot Acts take us in the right direction of legitimizing my exercise of greater executive power through legal fiat, which, by the way, is why I need Alito, because I need someone who interprets the issue of executive authority in contradiction to the constitution the way I do, so I can be more like my buddy Putin). And I will say to you today a bunch of other nonsensical things, such as how war in the Middle East is making us safer, even though there has been an increase in incidents of so-called terrorism inspite of (or because of, but I won't admit that) our actions in the world, blah blah blah. . .

-/+ Alito's approval: American democracy growing sicker? He's a right wing, activist judge pure and simple, despite claims to objectivity. Biggest evidence for this: He'd never been picked by this administration otherwise. Each and every nominee of the Bush administration must be seen in the proper context, i.e., that they are nominated by a very ideologically (i.e., neoconservative) driven and polarizing administration. The calls for bipartisanship by this administration always ring hollow, since by bipartisanship they mean no opposition and total capitulation to their agenda goals.

But at least the Democrats put on one of the bigger shows of opposition to the administration than the spineless and directionless lot of them usually do. . .

+++Julija, my daughter, really enjoyed moving her little legs as I helped her walk by holding her steady under her arms; with each step, she yelped with joy. . .

Monday, January 30, 2006

A Deal Far from Done; Ukrainian Orthodox-Moscow Patriarchate Jumps in Bed with CPU

GAZPROM CONTINUES TO ACCUSE UKRAINE OF STEALING GAS. Gazprom said in a statement on 26 January that Ukraine siphoned off 326 million cubic meters of Russian transit gas from 19-25 January, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. "The cold snap has shown thatUkraine is the only transit state that flagrantly violates international gas business conventions," the statement reads. "It means a total absence of control in Ukraine's energy sector." JM

DELAYS IN UKRAINIAN-RUSSIAN GAS DEAL ATTRIBUTED TO JOINT VENTURE.Ukraine's Anti-Monopoly Committee said on 26 January that it has so far received no information from either Naftohaz Ukrayiny orRosUkrEnergo that it needs to give a go-ahead to the creation of a joint venture by these two companies for selling gas in Ukraine, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. In accordance with a framework gas deal signed by these two companies and Gazpromearlier this month, Naftohaz Ukrayiny and the Swiss-basedRosUkrEnergo are to create a joint venture responsible for selling gas in Ukraine. The signing of a specific contract on gas deliveriesto Ukraine in 2006 has already been postponed twice (see "RFE/RLNewsline," 25 January 2006). JM

The above are from the RFE/RL newsline for Eastern Europe; you can subscribe by going to the RFE site listed in the links section.

"Ongoing Gas Troubles" editorial from the Kyiv Post

This news blurb from RFE is not about gas, but love the twist of logic. . .

UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH GROUP TO BACK COMMUNISTS IN ELECTIONS. Orthodox Choice, an organization formed by the Society of Orthodox Brotherhoods of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate),will support the Communist Party in the parliamentary elections on 26March 2006, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 27 January, quoting Societyof Orthodox Brotherhoods head Valentyn Lukiyanyk. Lukiyanyk reportedly said the Communist Party's principles are close to Orthodoxy in spirit. Lukiyanyk noted that such political organizations as Our Ukraine, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, the Socialist Party, and the People's Rukh are "anti-Orthodox." Orthodox Choice head Yuriy Yehorov claimed the Communist Party consistently defends Orthodox values and is "closer to the people." According to Yehorov, Orthodox Choice's cooperation with the Communists is basedon their similar sociopolitical agendas: combating illegal enrichment, seeking the unification of Slavic peoples, supporting the use of the Russian language in Ukraine, and opposing Ukraine's potential NATO membership. JM

I personally see only one properly spiritual element in the above list, the one pertaining to fighting "illegal enrichment" or unbridled exploitation of others; which means that Uki Orthodox Moscow Patriarchate in truth share a lot in common with each of the other parties they list as rejected as well. . .

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Kuzio Makes Strong Case Against Referendum on Polit Reform; Some Still Fotos

Read it here.
Some random stills from videofootage of last fall, 2005, in Pidhajtsi:
Fieldwork: Taras Kolodnytskyj

Last Fall: It Gets Cold in Ukraine, or, Bringing Corn Stalks from Fields for Home Insulation

All Too Typical Road

The PreModern and Modern, or Ukraine's PostModernity

Or, as Oskana Kolodnytska once said, "Ukraine's national mode of transportation for centuries that still hasn't died. . ."

Monday, January 23, 2006

Happy One Year Anniversary, Mr. President!

Musicians playing and people dancing on Khreshchatyk one year ago, in celebration of Yushchenko's inauguration and the victory of the OR. See more photos here (scroll down to post entitled Inauguration Photos).

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Photos: One Year Ago, Overnight Trip to Kyiv for the Big Inauguration

I was just reminded that a year ago tonight I was on a marshrutka (that normally ran to and fro Pidhajtsi and Ternopil) for an overnight trip to Kyiv for Yushchenko's inauguration. Just about as many if not more people flocked to the capital for the inauguration as did during the 17 days of mass demos that paved the way for Yushchenko's presidency. I won't get into making any statements of the there-was-so-much-hope-then-but-look-at-what-has-happened-since sort here, but to say that I agree with those who claim that, no matter which way you cut it, Ukraine has changed for the better. . .

Above and below, people in Pidhajtsi wait to board buses chartered to take them to Ternopil to a rendezvous point where they got on another bus that took them to Kyiv. Tickets for the bus were a hot item this day; a lot of disappointed people were turned away. There was such excitment in the air. Notice in the photo below Oksana Kolodnytska who has been featured on this blog a few times.

One of these fellows is my second-cousin Ostap. I was lucky--or krutyj enough, apparently--to be invited to go along with the Pidhajetski kruti (the cool guys of Pidhajtsi) on their chartered marshrutka direct from Pidhajtsi to Kyiv. Most of the guys spent most of the night drinking and eating on the bus. I joined them for half the night, and then did my best to get some sleep. Since I succeeded in doing so, I looked much better in the morning as we arrived in Kyiv than those guys who had partied the whole night (see below). . .

To be fair, most of the guys recovered quite well with some more horylka and slivjanka, food, and coffee for breakfast; indeed, they needed to get restored and in tip top shape because they had all come to Kyiv not just for the inauguration but to perform their Orange Xmas Skits. . .
Above and Below: I think that I wrote on this site--or maybe it was on my photopages--about how Xmas caroling (or mumming, as the older term goes) is still quite alive and well in Western Ukraine. A group of kids at a school, or some people at their church, or some friends together with other friends or family, will get together and come up with a skit that involve traditional characters, themes and carols (koljady) and some improvised stuff, and will proceed to go from house to house performing. They expect in return some shots of booze, some food, and some small donation. So these fellows from Pidhajtsi last year put together an Orange Revoluton themed skit, and they took the show to Kyiv for the inauguration. They apparently made a good deal of money. There is definitely one HUGE problem with this tradition: a traditional character in the skit is the stereotypical money-grubbin' Jew. I wrote about this problem to my list serve last year, and I will try to post that peice to Orange Dykun this week sometime.

(Update: I don't know why this particular picture below will not open into a larger window after posting onto my site; you can see the unfortunate, stereotyped and racist character of the Jew in the front row, third person from left. . .)

The inauguration from where I stood. I couldn't see any of the bigshots, but I didn't care one bit about that; the view of the assembled multitude of people, who mattered most, was incredible. . .

More pictures tomorrow at OrangeDykun.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Vodokhreshchennja v Pidhajtsakh (Feast of the Epiphany in Pidhajtsi)

Since the Ukrainian blogosphere was a bit active in commenting about the Epiphany celebrations in Ukraine this past week, I thought I'd post some of my photos from last year's Epiphany ceremony in Pidhajtsi here.

Another Great Article from Alexander Motyl

"It should now be clear that Russia is authoritarian at home and hegemonic abroad. It should be equally clear that Ukraine is democratic at home and pro-western abroad. Critics of the United States invasion of Iraq questioned the legitimacy of trading blood for oil. Observers of European policy may wonder about the legitimacy of trading democracy for gas."

See full article here.

While the article's purpose is to make a forceful statement as per how the EU should be aligning itself vis-a-vis Ukraine, importantly for me, Motyl also states that there was room for some legitimate criticism of Yushchenko and team; but what is more, he states more or less that the dispute was hardly a legitimate row over market relations, but rather was a situation in which Ukraine was bullied by an authoritarian at home and increasingly imperial-chauvanist northern neighbor.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Passing More Gas. . .(ha ha ha)

A deal that

A) is a betrayal of OR promises for a crusade against corruption and for transparency by involving as corrupt and untransparent an entity as RosUkrEnergo;

B) that gives what is essentially a monopoly to sell natural gas in Ukraine to Gazprom (since Gazprom more or less controls RosUkrEnergo);

C) that assists Gazprom in its effort to acquire the exclusive right to market Central Asian natural gas;

D) and that locks Ukraine out of seeking Central Asian partners in an effort to secure an energy supply with greater autonomy from Russia;
E) and that locks the price charged Gazprom for natural gas transit through Ukraine while giving Gazprom the right to renegotiate and raise the price of gas,


It may be the best deal that could have been hoped for in the situation (although I favored the risk of taking the dispute to an international court), but if that is so, I wish that Yushchenko would now behave more like Yekhanurov is these days.

That is, I wish the president would say things admitting that, while he felt there was no other way out of the impasse, this is not a good deal for Ukraine, and that Ukraine was bullied. I wish he would stop pretending, would stop playing the gentleman, would stop pretending that there is anything like a global free market in energy, and like he did during the OR, I wish that he would talk a lot more like a populist, that he would be more combatative, and in the end, would be more leaderlike. It would be so much more leaderlike and honest and admirable for him to say, "Look, this is the best we could do. This is not a good deal for Ukraine; we did what we could, but we were bullied, backed into a terrible corner."

I may not agree that such is the best that could have been done, but I would admire Yushchenko a great deal more (and so would some of the family with whom I have talked recently in Pidhajtsi), if this was his official line, and not his current defensive one. These are my same old problems with Yushchenko; see this
here. In the end, I hope as I have before, that he will prove the wiser and that I am just an uppity populist always looking for a fight. . .

But like the Socialists (who are emerging once again, as they have in the past, as my favorite overall party in Ukraine, and the more so as they continue to reform their ideology and positions to further resemble a real Social Democratic Party), I did not at all agree with the moves of other supposedly sincere populists to dismiss the government over the gas row. Criticism is indeed deserved, but not to the point of further destabilizing the orange government and of working with anti-orange forces within the country against the YuGov.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Good News Yushchenko Pushes for Referendum on Polit Reform:

This is good news; such a major change to the constitution, constructed as a compromise of which many were critical between the opposition and the despised authorities, should most definitely go to the public in a referendum. . .

From RFE newsline:

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT PREDICTS REFERENDUM ON CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM.President Viktor Yushchenko said in an interview with four Ukrainiantelevision channels on 13 January that he will seek a referendum onthe constitutional amendments of 2004 that limited presidentialpowers in favor of the parliament and the cabinet, the OBKOM website(http://ru.obkom.net.ua) reported. "There will be a specialannouncement [regarding the referendum]," Yushchenko said. "I thinkit is obvious for every citizen that the topic of the changes to theconstitution, its legal aspect, and the search for legal ways toovercome this problem is on the national agenda. Ukraine will have adifficult future with such amendments and procedures." Yushchenkostressed that the constitutional reform was adopted withoutsufficient public discussion. "I think 95 percent [of Ukrainians]will tell you that they don't have any information [about theconstitutional reform]," Yushchenko asserted. "They don't know thatthese changes were not proposed for public discussion, that they werenot discussed in the parliament. Everything was done on the sly." JM

More gas musings from EDM



Not on gas. . .

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Instructive Russia and Gas Articles

Vladimir Socor
Friday, January 13, 2006

My subtitle: Or more trouble with Yushchenko

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko is risking his political credibility by blindly defending the Russian-Ukrainian gas deal despite severe criticism of it by Western and Ukrainian experts and a majority of the Ukrainian parliament. Rather than addressing the agreement on its merits, Yushchenko ignores Western critics (some of the most prominent of whom are Orange sympathizers) and imputes political partisan motives to internal critics (whose affiliations range from the leftist opposition to the core pro-democracy community). This unforntnately is not the first time that Yushchenko has demonstrated that there are lingering Soviet/post-Soviet traditions within him--calling legitimate criticism the insincere, unprincipled work of political opponents is a time honored rhetorical tactic. Certainly some of the critics are such people, i.e., the so-called hardline opposition; however there are genuine democrats who criticize him thusly as well. . . Yushchenko's stance seems to reflect his quest for accommodation with a suddenly responsive Kremlin in the run-up to the March parliamentary elections in Ukraine. Meanwhile, even Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov and other Ukrainian officials admit to the January 4 agreement's flaws and seem even to be distancing themselves from parts of the deal.

During his joint news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin on January 11 in Astana, Yushchenko described the gas deal as a "wonderful result [that] was reached on the basis of market principles (which are what, exactly?)." He professed to be "convinced that the agreement was drafted professionally [as] a sound compromise, politically, and economically," and that he was "aware of every provision."

Along with the government, Yushchenko had assured the nation that the discounted price of $95 per 1,000 cubic meters supplied to Ukraine would apply for the five years of the agreement's duration, whereas it actually applies for the first six months of that period. Yushchenko did not react when Putin told their joint conference that the price on the Russian component of those supplies would (after the first six months) vary in accordance with "market prices." Moreover, Turkmenistan has already signaled its intention to demand a higher price next year for the Turkmen component of gas supplies to Ukraine.

In Kyiv on the sidelines of the cabinet of ministers' January 12 emergency meeting, Yushchenko again told the press, "I am ready to answer for every point of the agreement that was signed" (UNIAN, January 12). However, he is not addressing the agreement's merits, nor taking notice of the critics who do.

In contrast to the president, Yekhanurov now acknowledges that Kyiv has been blackmailed into signing, and that the agreement is not binding after all. While defending the government's decision to sign it on January 4 regardless of the flaws, Yekhanurov has begun unveiling some of the agreement's murky aspects. In a televised interview he recounted some moments of the negotiations in Moscow: "The whole of the pipeline from the Turkmen-Uzbek to the Russian-Ukrainian border is filled by Gazprom's contractor RosUkrEnergo. We were offered a choice: either this, or [sarcastically] ship gas by train. Thus, we had no choice."

Until now, Yekhanurov and the government professed to be totally agnostic about RosUkrEnergo's identity, refusing even to ask questions as long as that company "guaranteed" the $95 price for five years. The government's dissembling on both counts was the main trigger of the parliament's January 11 vote of no confidence. Now, the government admits that the $95 price is only valid for six months and is beginning to raise questions about RosUkrEnergo. According to Yekhanurov "We will officially put the questions [who are RosUkrEnergo's owners] to the Russian side; but I know that if we want to have gas, we have one company to choose from. Or we can opt to not receive gas."

According to Yekhanurov now, "Ukrainian interests are not represented" in RosUkrEnergo, there is has "no one there from the Ukrainian side." The "Ukr" part in the company's name, he said, dates to 2004 when the Kuchma administration and Moscow envisaged forming a Russian-Ukrainian company, but the company remained a Russian one after the change of power in Ukraine.

After signing the January 4 agreement, the Ukrainian government referred to RosUkrEnergo as a joint company in an apparent attempt to suggest that Ukraine's interests would be represented there. This turns out not to be the case. Thus, the proposed joint venture of Naftohaz Ukrainy and RosUkrEnergo to market gas in Ukraine would not be predominantly Ukrainian as hitherto assumed.

Moreover, Yekhanurov now describes the January 4 agreement as merely a "protocol," a "road map," one that "has no consequences, fines or whatever" -- i.e., not binding. Asked whether "this means that the sides [shall] follow the agreements signed previously" [i.e., in 2002 and thereafter for the period through 2009], Yekhanurov answered: "Certainly. And there are about 20 documents inter-state and inter-governmental documents and some contracts."

This assertion refers to the period during which Kyiv, Moscow, and RosUkrEnergo will be negotiating the actual contracts on the volumes and prices of gas supplies and transit services. In sum, it appears that the issue remains in a legal vacuum and subject to political decisions by a strong-armed Kremlin and a vulnerable Yushchenko administration.

(Interfax-Ukraine, UNIAN, Channel Five TV [Kyiv], January 11, 12; see EDM, January 12)

2) The Bear is afoot, but called in the article here "a lion." Gives background as to why to my mind the West and Ukraine should have been even more assertive with the Kremlin in the gas row; article entitled, "IVANOV RESTATES KREMLIN'S MONROE DOCTRINE."

At the end of the article: typical Russian chauvanist arrogance and insults. . .poor "lion" Russia is surrounding itself with "Jackals" (i.e., CIS members).

Just as much as the nations of Latin America never consented to being part of the US sphere and are struggling to put an end to what is, in the end, a unilaterally-concieved system of spheric relations in favor of a more genuinely multilateral and democractic one, the same is the desire of the multitude of the people in Eurasia. Ukraine and Georgia could be and should be more forceful leaders and should take cues from what is happening in Latin America (Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, Argentine, and what looks like soon to be left-leaning presidencies in Chile and Mexico) in the struggle against the American 800 lb guerrilla while they fight their regional "bear" or "lion."

And no one on the Left should be stupid enough (or hypocritical enough) to argue that Russia has a right to a sphere of infuence against Western machinations. The militant, grassroots struggle of the global multitude is in part against these kinds of unilateral spheric relations in favor of multilateral, democratic, fair-trade relations. . .Russia has no more a right to a sphere in Eurasia than does the US in Latin America; the only thing backing its (and the US's) chauvanistic assertion of the right to a sphere is money and might (relative wealth and strength in relation to others of the sphere), not moral-spiritual righteousness. Leaders of the US and Russia have unfortunately been drunk on delusions of grandeur for too long.

3) Well written defense of Russia's side here.

4) Balanced Kuzio account with suggestion for how the gas deal will effect elections here.

5) RFE account with excellent comment on how the whole affair will effect elections here.

6) More of EDM's cautions on the gas matter here.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Gas Crisis Comment

Leave it up to liberal policy makers to give too much away in an attempt to be pragmatic and reasonable. This is what happened with the gas deal; a lot was given away, and the policymakers and many of their pundits applauded it as good sense. But sometimes the pragmatism and reasonableness backfires, as it has today. Don’t blame the (phony) opposition—no matter how phony they are—for the (potential) sacking of Yekhanurov’s gov; he and his boss set their government up for a no-confidence vote with a bad deal, which is the second highly questionable (but initially lauded as “reasonable”) deal they’ve struck. How far is this particular wing of the orange movement willing to go in making concessions with the very powers that the OR stood against?

It’s a bad deal; read
this, this, and this (all three are from EDM's Vladimir Socor; but he's not the only one out there pointing out the downside to the deal). Why is the YuGov so willing to compromise Ukraine’s ability to cobble together an energy policy that would help make Ukraine more autonomous from Russia, and that would show Ukraine continuing to act as a regional leader via its initiative for a Eurasian energy scheme that thwarts Russia’s attempt to use energy for neo-imperial purposes? The momentum for a more hardline stance was once again squandered.

More tomorrow or the day after. . .

Update: not to say, however, that the vote to dimiss the government of Yekhanurov just ahead of major parliamentary elections and in a time of great uncretainty over constitutional procedures due to polit reform was a good thing. My opinion of Tymoshenko has been gradually changing since she was sacked, and this time her cooperation with the proMoscow or "hardline," as Kuzio likes to put it, opposition seems to betray or confirm that she is more ambitious than she is principled by nature. Is she really doing this on the basis of a principled opposition? And what stance are the socialists and Moroz taking on all of this?