Rumours

The Independent reports a ‘government source’ in Kiev telling their reporter that plans are afoot to try and connect the opposition forces with a terrorist attack:

Ukraine’s embattled government is ready to stage faked terrorist attacks to destabilise the country and discredit the opposition ahead of a rerun of the presidential vote, a senior government source has told The Independent.

The official, who works for the government of the Moscow-backed candidate and current Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, said: “One of the plans is to blow up a pipeline and blame it on opposition supporters. Ukraine is the key transit country for Russian gas supplies to the West.”

Mr Yanukovych’s backers fear the prospect of their candidate losing to Viktor Yushchenko and are ready to plunge the country into economic chaos, the source revealed. “They are planning to use criminals – plain bandits – that they have a hold over.” The source said that a senior member of the government had been tasked with overseeing terrorist acts.

There’s also talk of potential financial chaos in Ukraine because of the protests:

Supporters of Mr Yanukovych and the current President Leonid Kuchma will also seek to play on fears that inflation will wipe out people’s savings as it did after the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

There has already been a run on banks and black market money changers are returning to the streets with far higher dollar and euro exchange rates.

The government has already suggested that it will not be able to pay pensions and government salaries in December, although the opposition claims there are adequate reserves to pay everything.

Ukraine’s Court Says New Runoff Should Be Held by Dec. 26

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — The Supreme Court declared the results of Ukraine’s disputed presidential run-off election invalid and ruled Friday that the run-off should be repeated by Dec. 26, bringing cheers from tens of thousands of opposition supported massed in Kiev’s main square.

The ruling, made after five days of hearings by the court’s 18 justices, was a major victory for opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, who had rejected the government’s demands that an entirely new election be held.

The opposition had pinned its hopes on the court’s ruling in its bid to overturn the results of the Nov. 21 run-off vote in which Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych was declared the winner. The opposition said the vote was rigged to cheat Yushchenko of victory.

Outgoing President Leonid Kuchma had been pressing for an entirely new election, apparently in hopes of replacing Yanukovych with a stronger candidate.

UPDATE: (Tobias, 18:29 CET) – The Kyiv Post has some more information

Tens of thousands of opposition protesters who had massed in central Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti) in anticipation of the decision cheered, waving blue-and-yellow Ukrainian and orange Yushchenko flags and chanting “Yushchenko! Yushchenko!” The crackle of fireworks could be heard in the distance.

In related news, Maidan reports that outgoing President Kuchma vetoed the recently passed law invalidating “absentee ballots” for the re-run. These ballots allowed Ukrainians to vote in other than their home districts, and were, according to numerous reports by international observers, one of the main instruments of electoral fraud in the initial run-off.

Is this the resolution?

Ten days on, and we may be close to a resolution of the crisis in the Ukraine. There’s definitely been some agreement between Kuchma, Yuschenko, Yanukovich and the mediators (Solana, Adamkus, Kubis and Kwasniewski) but, as ever, the devil is in the details. The basic points seem to be that there will be a revote, there will be constitutional reforms before the vote occurs, protestors will stop blockading government buildings and an all-party working group will implement changes based on the rulings of the Supreme Court.

The questions that remain to be answered though, are:

  • What form will the revote take? The full election, or just the second round? Will new candidates be allowed to stand, and will existing ones be barred from standing? Will more observers be allowed in for the elections, and will Yuschenko’s other requirements, such as limiting absentee ballots, be accepted?
  • What form will the constiutional reforms take? The general opinion seems to be that the Prime Minister and Cabinet will gain powers from the Presidency, but is this to weaken a potential Yuschenko Presidency? And will the reforms address the regional issues?
  • Where do the protestors go now? Blockades are over, but will some remain on the streets to keep the pressure on?
  • Finally, what will the Supreme Court actually rule and when? It seems the election process can’t really begin until its deliberations are completed?
  • As I said, reaction seems to be mixed amongst both the media and the bloggers as to whether this is the end of this stage of the crisis, or whether it still continues. See the Kyiv Post, PA/Scotsman, Le Sabot, Foreign Notes, Notes from Kiev and SCSU Scholars for more.

    In related news, The Argus notes that while the events in Ukraine may have inspired protestors in Tajikstan Uzbekistan, while attention’s been focused elsewhere, Russia is demanding Abkhazia reholds its recent election.

    Finally, I’ve received a report from Tarik Amar, who reported from Ukraine on John Quiggin’s blog last week. He’s been talking to the people in the tent city and you can read the full thing below the fold.
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    Enter The People. Why We Are Wearing Orange.

    It is getting colder in Kyiv, so it may not be too surprising both camps are busy fueling the flames of their conflict. In a country eagerly awaiting its Supreme Court’s decision about the validity of last week’s Presidential election, the second week of popular protests in Kyiev begins with the incumbent president Kuchma’s threat to enforce martial law, and more secessionist motions passed by Eastern regional assemblies/authorities, which, although likely a consequence of oligarchic pressures and thus questionable true popular support, have caught the attention of the Yushenko campaign – as Scott’s post below indicates. In many ways, things could take an ugly turn soon.

    Given the growing awareness that Mr Yushenko is a politician with oligarchic friends of his own, who is making, as the Kyiv Post stated on Saturday, “a multi-faceted attempt to take power”, and not a saint, I think it is appropriate to explain exactly what we want to express by wearing orange these days: orange is, after all, Mr Yushenko’s campaign color. But then, it seems, orange is no longer just his campaign color.

    Former US National Security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski stated last Thursday, in a roundtable discussion, hastily arranged by the American Enterprise Institute, that we witness “the meeting of Ukrainian nationalism with Ukrainian democracy on a popular basis”. Well, nationalism clearly has its role, and not unexpectedly in a country featuring such a motley collection of salient cleavages. Yet for all I hear, I do not get the impression that the nationalism exhibited by the crowds peacefully demonstrating for Yushenko is of divisive, ethnically exclusive nature – while the Yanukovich camp apparently scared ethnic Russian voters in the East. Arguing that the Kuchma administration has talked up ethnic tensions to be able to act as mediator, Tarik Amar writes in a very informative, long primer at John Quiginn’s

    “[c]rucially, even in round one the opposition managed to win all Ukrainian regions in the West as well as the Centre of the country, including ? by a large margin ? the largely Russiophone capital city Kyiv. The government has always liked to pretend that the opposition?s base was restricted to the Ukrainophone West, implying that it was ?nationalist?, even ?separatist.? Some Western observers still cling to these facile stereotypes. It is Yanukovych who has been cornered in a minority of eastern oblasts. If anybody represents an above-regional Ukrainian solidarity, it is clearly Yushchenko. He speaks proper Russian as well as Ukrainian and his being a native of one of Ukraine?s most eastern oblasts and having spent his student and working life in western as well as central Ukraine cannot be matched by Yanukovych, whose biography is strictly mono-regional and whose Ukrainian is not perfect.”

    So I think Mr Brzezinski’s statement is by and large correct about the nature of what’s going on. And while most Ukrainians as well as political analysts will probably have agreed even before last week that this election was a crucial event for Ukraine, I think everyone has been surprised by the hundreds of thousands of people who have turned the election into a plebiscite about the kind of society they want to live in. Let me again quote Tarik Amar –

    Even if some Western minds jaded by overfeeding on ?Civil Society? rhetoric may find it old hat, for Ukraine things are at stake that were achieved in Poland in 1989: essential respect for the law and the sovereign people, pluralism, and, indeed, freedom from fear. Ukraine is facing a choice not between different policies or regions but between mutually exclusive political cultures. Without undue idealization, the opposition stands for a reasonable understanding of rules, laws, and good faith in observing them.

    Wearing orange is – now – essentially about aspiring to a different standard of governance. Yet I am not as certain about the prospects of Ukrainian civil society as Mr Brzezinski, who believes it would survive even a failure of the current stand-off. I am worried by the failed 1953 East-German uprising – it’s (bloody) failure led to widespread decades-long political apathy. Despite all efforts by political activists from inside (and outside) Ukraine, Ukrainian civil society must still be weak. Thus, as every little thing may count, we have decided to display a few additional orange bits to show our support for all those in Kyiv who are aspiring – and freezing.

    One more thing. Over the last few days, some reports have led to not unreasonable suspicions about a renewed confrontation between Russia and “the West” about Ukraine, including some about several Western, particularly American, governmental as well as non-governmental organisations having “meddled” with the Ukrainian elections, particularly by funding grassroots protest-organisations like the student movement PORA.

    Yet “meddling” is a matter of degree – a week before the second round of the elections, the Cato Institute’s Doug Bandow quoted a Russian political consultant with the so-called “Russian club”, Sergei Markov, using the American grassroots support to justify the – far more extensive – Russian involvement in Ukraine –

    “[l]ook at what the U.S. is doing here – supporting foundations, analytical centers, round tables. It’s how contemporary foreign policy is pursued. And it’s exactly what we’re doing.”

    I would never claim that “the West” or any of its constiuent parts would be above the use of electoral manipulation; particularly, in situations where it had a clear idea where it wants to go and what to expect, how to direct, and what to achieve through any political movement.

    Yet, as opposed to Russia, whose motives with respect to Ukraine are clear – if there is one truth about the American and European involvement in Ukraine, I think it would be that there is no strategy, simply because there isn’t a monolithic or even prevailing view of Russia anymore. Absent any real strategy, Western support is likely to have actually achieved what it was supposed to achieve: create process awareness.

    It was the latter that brought the people to the streets, not some handbook of popular opposition, pollsters, political consultants, or stickers paid for with money from Washington or Brussels. And that is one more reason to wear the ribbon.
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    Meanwhile, in Romania

    One country over from the Ukraine, Romania is also about to have elections. Election day is tomorrow, Sunday the 28th.

    Romania is a sort of borderland right now. It joined NATO last year, and it’s an EU candidate member, with full membership scheduled (at the moment) in 2007. The economy has been growing briskly, and foreign investment is rising rapidly (albeit from a very low base).

    But the country is still desperately poor — per capita income, even adjusted for the lower cost of living, is less than a third of the EU average. Corruption is still pervasive. Political life is still dominated by the old Communist nomenklatura.

    So whether Romania is doing well or badly is very much a relative question. Compared to, say, Hungary or Poland, they’re very much the poor Eastern cousins. Compared to Ukraine, never mind Belarus or Moldova, though, Romania is an economic and political success story.

    And then there are these elections. Let me start with an obvious question: could the Romanian elections be stolen, in the same way that the Ukrainian elections have been? Will the incumbent government allow its candidates to lose?
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    Another Brick In The Wall.


    The Berlin Wall.
    To be sure, this was a busy week for the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder. In addition to the obligations caused by a state visit of Queen Elizabteth II, which, not unexpectedly, took place in an atmosphere of tabloid turmoil on both sides of the channel, the autumn European summit in Brussels, and the political digestion of the US election, he managed to upset pretty much everyone in political Germany – and beyond (Bild.de) – with the most bizarre proposal to – sort of – abolish the German national holiday, October 3, in order to boost GDP growth and, as a consequence, eventually meet the fiscal criteria set out in the stability and growth pact.
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    Suspicion and divided loyalties

    Perhaps the most damaging effect of 9/11 and all that has followed will be its role in making divided loyalties one of the most dangerous things a person can have. From the beginning, while the ruins of the World Trade Center were still burning, any effort to hold non-trivial positions about terrorism and Islam were attacked. People opposed to the war in Iraq were branded as terrorist supporters, people unimpressed by a programme of reform in the Middle East imposed at the end of a gun were castigated, people who asked questions about whether there was more to things than “they hate us for our freedom” were branded as traitors.

    Tariq Ramadan wrote a piece in Wednesday’s New York Times which must be read in this light. The key paragraph – the statement of where he stands – appears at the end:

    I believe Western Muslims can make a critical difference in the Muslim majority world. To do this, we must become full, independent Western citizens, working with others to address social, economic and political problems. However, we can succeed only if Westerners do not cast doubt on our loyalty every time we criticize Western governments. Not only do our independent voices enrich Western societies, they are the only way for Western Muslims to be credible in Arab and Islamic countries so that we can help bring about freedom and democracy. That is the message I advocate. I do not understand how it can be judged as a threat to America.

    But it is not that hard to see the threat in it. To encourage western Muslims to at once see themselves as having a place in the West and a role in the Islamic world is tantamount to asking them to divide their loyalties. To all too many people right now, divided loyalties are a synonym for treason. The charge of divided loyalties is an old one, and a very damaging one. It was once the most mainstream charge that people made against Jews. To see it revived today – against Muslims in Europe, against Mexicans in the US by the likes of Samuel Huntington, and yes, against Jews in many countries – is very, very troubling.
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    Interesting Take on Yukos

    A very interesting take on the Yukos situation from the Moscow Times. And one which relates directly to some of the privatisation issues we were debating recently. Boris Kagarlitsky, director of the Institute of Globalization Studies, argues basically that given that the Russian economy is dominated by an oligarchic structure of raw materials quasi-monopolies, and given that a majority of the population seem to want these monopolies returning to state ownership, the only ‘democratic’ solution is an authoritarian one. Khodorkovsky had another idea, and hence off he went to prison. Any comparisons with or lessons for Iraq here? Can democracy be introduced like this? Off you go.
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