Deputy PM Tymoshenko suspended
On Friday afternoon President Leonid Kuchma signed a decree calling for the suspension of Deputy Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Kuchma's action was based on a request submitted to him by the General Prosecutor's Office on 16 January.
According to Ukrainian law, it is the president who decides on suspension of officials appointed by his decree. The request was submitted a day after Tymoshenko was formally indicted on charges of smuggling and forgery.
Prosecutors accused her of involvement in smuggling Russian natural gas and forging documents made out to customs authorities when she was head of private gas-trading giant United Energy Systems of Ukraine between 1995 and 1997. The general prosecutor's resolution argues that Tymoshenko's status as a minister could negatively influence the investigation.
Tymoshenko denied the charges, saying that she was under investigation because she is damaging the interests of powerful businessmen linked to Kuchma, who feel threatened by her attempts to eradicate barter deals in the energy market. She expressed hope that the claim of the General Prosecutor would not be supported by the President because the "shadow circles of Ukraine" will then have achieved what they wanted "especially now when the gas sector reforms are to start."
Tymoshenko also expressed confidence in Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko's support, although he did not express any straightforward position on the matter. Yushchenko said that Tymoshenko's case should be handled with care considering that she is a member of the government.
Some parliamentary officials have criticized Kuchma and have said Tymoshenko was only indicted to divert attention away from the Georgy Gongadze scandal. Other observers say that Tymoshenko behaved as if she was interested in slowing down the pace of investigation. According to Natalia Zarudna, the Prime Minister's Press Secretary, it is possible that Viktor Yushchenko himself will take over the responsibilities of Yulia Tymoshenko.
Is there freedom of speech in Ukraine?
On 16 January, a parliamentary hearing on the freedom of speech and freedom of the press entitled "The problems of information activities, freedom of speech, observance of laws and the state of information security of Ukraine," was conducted.
Unlike previous hearings—in particular those on the related topics—this event attracted a lot of attention and provoked vigorous discussion. The turnout of deputies as well as journalists, members of the government, representatives of non-governmental organizations, and diplomatic corps was larger than ever. This is not surprising in the context of the chain of events that followed the disappearance of Ukrainian journalist Georgy Gongadze, who many believe was murdered.
It was admitted by many—in particular Oleksandr Zinchenko, Head of the Committee of Verkhovna Rada (the Parliament of Ukraine) on Information and the Freedom of Speech, and Ivan Pliushch, the chairman of Verkhovna Rada—that non-legal mechanisms towards the mass-media are often exercised in Ukraine and the success of its activities depends on political loyalty.
Georgy Gongadze's mother delivered a speech, which was one of the most moving moments of the hearings. She supported the criticism being leveled at the General Prosecutor's Office for its mishandling of the Gonhadze case. However, the hearing did not result in any conclusive decisions or conclusions.
Although a special working group aimed at further elaborating on the topic was created, rather than displaying progress in speech reforms the hearing showed the inability of Parliament to make strategic decisions.
A hearing on freedom of speech in Ukraine may be discussed at the PACE (the Committee of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly) session between 22 and 26 January. A session of the Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council on the issue of Ukraine's information security is scheduled for February and March 2001. A presidential decree is expected to follow the session and a national concept of information security is to be ready by summer.
Kuchma's working visit in Berlin
From 18 to 20 January, President Kuchma visited Berlin to take part in the International Bertelsmann Forum called "Europe Without Borders."
In the course of the visit Kuchma met German President Johannes Rau, the Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and the Minister of Foreign Affairs Joschka Fischer. During Kuchma's meeting with Rau, the political situation in Ukraine was discussed. Rau said that Germany is willing to see Ukraine as a developed and democratic country and expressed his belief that European countries have to help Ukraine after Chernobyl's closure.
Meetings with Chris Patten, the European Commissioner on External Relations, Romano Prodi, President of the Commission and Secretary-General, and High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana were on the agenda, as were meetings with the presidents of Lithuania and Slovenia.
This was Kuchma's first visit to the West since the "tape scandal" allegedly implicating him in the disappearance of journalist Georgy Gongadze. On 15 January, the eve of the visit, around 100 protesters participating in the action "Ukraine without Kuchma" gathered near the German embassy demanding Kuchma to cancel his visit to Berlin.
The German Charge d'Affaires, Johann Schmidt, met the protesters and promised to pass their letter to the German leadership. When Kuchma unveiled the new Ukrainian embassy in Berlin on 18 January there stood only two students protesting.
Experts think that Kuchma's meetings will contribute to the deepening of relations between the two countries. The closure of the Chernobyl nuclear station combined with the German Chancellor's Christmas visit to Russia makes Germany more open towards Ukraine. The day before Kuchma's arrival Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko also visited Berlin.
Zlenko delivered a speech "East or West: Where is the future of Ukraine?" He emphasized that integration into Europe should become the priority of Ukraine's foreign policy, whereas its status as "a CIS country" has no historical perspective. At the same time he made it clear that Russia is a strategic partner of Ukraine and that relations with it should deepen.
Iryna Solonenko, 19 January 2001
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