CRISIS OF UKRAINE'S STATE INSTITUTIONS here.
"The signing of the January 4 gas agreement with Russia illustrated the dangers stemming from the growing weakness of Ukraine's state institutions. Basically, just two individuals, Fuel and Energy Minister Ivan Plachkov and Naftohaz Ukrainy chairman Oleksiy Ivchenko, negotiated and signed a dubious agreement in complete secrecy in Moscow, without the support of experts from government agencies that are traditionally involved in such negotiations, without consultation with the cabinet of ministers, and without public accountability even after the highly controversial agreement had been signed. Their briefings afterward to the media proved misleading, and they then declined to testify to the parliament, in effect setting up Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov to take the fall. (Yekhanurov initially also dissembled on the gas agreement, but eventually distanced himself from it.) Meanwhile, President Viktor Yushchenko continues describing the gas agreement as an unqualified success even crediting Russian President Vladimir Putin for contributing to the purported success despite massive domestic and international criticism of key parts of the agreement."
PUTIN-KOCHARIAN LOVE FEST CONCEALS REAL PROBLEMS here
"Russia's gas price hike to Armenia, demands for property in return for temporary price relief, supply cuts following the pipeline blasts in the North Caucasus, unilateral Russian announcements about adding weaponry to the Russian base in Armenia, and finally three murders of ethnic Armenians within one week in Moscow by the usual "hooligans" -- all this overshadowed Presidents Vladimir Putin and Robert Kocharian's festive opening of the "Year of Armenia in Russia" on January 22-23 in the Kremlin. None of those problems were acknowledged at the official love fest, however."
PUTIN ON KOSOVO AND POST-SOVIET CONFLICTS: DESTRUCTIVE AMBIGUITY here
"In practice, Moscow would gain little by formalizing those secessions. Its recognition of the would-be statelets would carry no consequences in international law; would cast Russia openly as an aggressor; would irrevocably end Russia's hopes to regain a measure of political influence in Georgia, Azerbaijan, or Moldova; and would alarm and alienate other countries as well. Moscow is content with the de facto situation in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Karabakh, and Transnistria. It is interested in prolonging the uncertainty, not in providing any legal or pseudo-legal solutions either in those conflicts or in Kosovo. Moscow's operational goal is to use the Kosovo negotiations as a tool for inhibiting U.S. and EU involvement in efforts to resolve post-Soviet conflicts, at a time when Washington and Brussels consider ways of increasing their involvement. Russia hopes to entice the United States and the European Union into a quid pro quo whereby Moscow would not stand in the way of their solution for Kosovo, if Washington and Brussels tolerate the de facto existing situation in the post-Soviet conflicts."
INTEREST REBOUNDS IN TRANS-CASPIAN PIPELINE FOR TURKMEN GAS here
"The obvious solution in Ukraine's and overall Western interest is going ahead with the trans-Caspian project. Official Kyiv, however, does not seem to be working toward that goal.
MOSCOW, KYIV DISRUPTING NEGOTIATIONS ON TRANSNISTRIA here
"The EU had urged this arrangement in order to curb massive illegal commerce [including the lucrative and cruel sex-slave trade; this is a major portal through which Ukrainian girls and women are smuggled out of the country] to and from Transnistria via Ukraine. The new rules were to take effect on January 25. However, Kyiv officials acting on Yushchenko's authority overruled Yekhanurov on this issue."
"This marks the fourth time that a Ukrainian president has abrogated an EU-supported agreement signed by the Ukrainian and Moldovan prime ministers to introduce European rules on that border. Leonid Kuchma cancelled such agreements in 2001 and 2003. Yushchenko did so for the first time in July 2005: at NSDC Secretary Petro Poroshenko's behest, he received Smirnov in Kyiv and ordered an indefinite suspension of the agreement Yulia Tymoshenko signed with Tarlev."
POROSHENKO DRAFTS, YUSHCHENKO LAUNCHES A PLAN FOR TRANSNISTRIA here
(Older, summertime Socor piece on Poroshenko and Transnistria)
"Many suspected at the time -- and some in the new Ukrainian authorities are certain -- that corrupt officials in the Odessa oblast and in Kyiv took their cut from Transnistria's illicit trade, which also created political complicities that persist between Tiraspol and elements in Ukraine's authorities. Initially, the new leadership in Kyiv declared that it was prepared to stop the illicit trade on that border. It briefly introduced some restrictions, but lifted them in March, when Poroshenko's Council took over the lead role on the Transnistria issue from the Foreign Affairs Ministry.
RUSSIAN ENERGY SUPPLY CUTOFF TO GEORGIA: ANOTHER WAKE-UP SIGNAL TO THE WEST here
"The cut-off in supplies to Georgia underscores again for all consumer countries the urgency of breaking their overdependence on Russian supplies. These are proving politically unreliable, commercially onerous, subject to unelucidated attacks even in the country of origin, and of insufficient availability in the short term for all internal and external customers of Russian energy supplies."
AS RUSSIA IS DOWNGRADED TO "UNFREE" IS IT UNFIT TO HEAD THE G-8 (Kuzio)? here
"The Russian-Ukrainian gas dispute is therefore no longer a conflict between two former Soviet republics but a conflict between an autocratic, non-democratic regime headed by "Putin's Mafia Politics" (Wall Street Journal Europe, January 3) and a democratizing regime headed by Viktor Yushchenko. As the Daily Telegraph (January 3) pointed out, 'The methods of gangsterism and blackmail now being used by [Russian gas giant] Gazprom are reminiscent of the Soviet era.'"
" Both Russia and Belarus believe that civil society only exists because of foreign funding, an attitude inherited from the former USSR when dissidents were routinely accused of being CIA or 'Zionist' agents. This wariness is complicated by another Soviet-era holdover: conspiracy theories [also held over by lots of Western leftists] that blame the democratic 'color revolutions' on the United States."
"These rankings show how quickly the post-communist states in East-Central Europe and the CIS are radically diverging. They also confirm that 2004 and 2005 were pivotal years, during which Russia turned toward autocracy and Ukraine toward democracy.
Few Western commentators have bothered to connect Russia's growing autocracy and undemocratic regime at home with a return to a neo-Soviet foreign policy. It is now evident that Russia's aggressive stance towards Ukraine, evident both in the gas conflict and during Ukraine's 2004 presidential elections, indicates how closely Russia's domestic and foreign policies are interwoven.
The resignation of Russian presidential adviser Andrei Illarionov on the eve of the gas conflict brought home this inter-connection. The use of gas pressure, Illarionov claimed, was first tested inside Russia during elections for regional governors. After their success, the Russian authorities decided to apply them towards foreign countries (grani.ru, December 21).
The gas dispute is merely the latest evidence of the close connection between Russia's undemocratic domestic policies and its support for autocratic regimes abroad. Of the six CIS states that are designated by Freedom House as 'unfree,' four are politically aligned with Russia: Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. Russia's support for Uzbekistan's brutal massacre of civilians in May 2005 led to Tashkent's re-alignment away from the United States and toward Russia.
During President George W. Bush's second term the United States has gradually become more aware of the links between Russia's undemocratic domestic and aggressive external policies. But it is 'old Europe,' inside the European Union, that is now finally having to come to terms with the real Russia under Putin. Germany's new government has already changed that country's view of Russia. But traditionally Russophile France continues to view Putin's Russia favorably, a stance that, as the gas conflict proves, is out of touch with reality."