Weekly briefing on key developments in Ukraine
1. Communists and Socialists Want Troops Out Of Iraq
2. Parliament Endorses Government Program
3. Kuchma In Moscow
4. Parliament Adopted a Law on the Election
5. Kuchma Visits Thailand, Brunei
6. Audits In Media Sector Halted
7. State Department Criticizes Ukraine
8. Ukrainian-U.S. Negotiations for Utilization of Missile Fuel
9. Open Letter to the Secreatary of State
Ukrainian Communists and Socialists Want Troops Out Of Iraq. Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko called on the Parliament on 16 March to pass a bill on the with-drawal of Ukrainian troops from Iraq. Referring to last week’s terrorist attacks in Mardrid, Sy-monenko argued that such a bill is necessary to end the "state of war" that Ukraine is in and to prevent any possible terrorist retaliation against Ukraine. A similar appeal to the Parliament was made by Socialist Party lawmaker Yuriy Lutsenko. Prime Minister Victor Yanukovich, who spoke in parliament the same day, said he is "displeased" with the presence of Ukrainian soldiers in Iraq but stopped short of saying he would support their pullout. Ukraine has the fourth largest contingent of coalition forces in Iraq, some 1,800 troops in the Polish-led Wasit region.
Later that day, Ukrainian foreign Ministry’s press spokesman said that as of now Ukraine did not intend to withdraw or reduce its peacekeeping contingent from Iraq. He stressed that the Ukrainian administration and the coalition partners, particularly the United States, regarded the work of the Ukrainian contingent as a success and its drawdown could lead to destabilization of the situation in the Wasit province.
Commentary: While President Kuchma and his administration in-tend to remain firm on their support for the U.S. efforts in Iraq, they will likely face a strong and noisy opposition in the Parliament in the days ahead. The Socialists’ call for an Iraq pullout will almost certainly resonate favorably and will find support from its political allies Yuliya Ti-moshenko and Victor Yuschenko’s "Our Ukraine" blocs. In the past, both blocs and their leaders voted against sending Ukrainian troops to Iraq.
Ukrainian Parliament Endorses Government Program. The Parliament voted 239-38 on Tuesday to approve the government’s action plan for 2004, called "Consistency, Efficiency, Responsibility." The vote simultaneously acknowledged the performance of Prime Minister Victor Yanukovych’s cabinet in 2003 as satisfactory. All deputies from Victor Yuschenko’s Our Ukraine, the Socialist Party, Yuliya Timoshenko Bloc, and the Communist Party did not participate in the vote.
Commentary: A separate motion by the opposition to rate the government’s performance last year as unsatisfactory was supported just by 109 lawmakers, well below the 226 votes re-quired for approval. Approval of the government is likely to give the Yanukovich government at least one year more of life. President Kuchma, of course, still has the power to remove the gov-ernment but some observers believe that is highly unlikely on the eve of upcoming presidential election. Thus, Prime Minister Yanukovich's hands are free. He, as the most likely presidential candidate after being officially nominated, may act without reckoning with neither the president not parliament.
Parliament adopted a law on the election of the president and set the date for elections. In compliance with the law adopted on March 18 political parties or election blocs of the parties have the right to nominate candidates to the presidential post. The term of the presidential election campaign is reduced to 120 days (at present it is 180 days).
Four hundred out of 436 lawmakers present voted for the bill. The bloc of Yuliya Ty-moshenko (all 18 lawmakers), Viktor Yuschenko's bloc Our Ukraine - 13 lawmakers out of 100 and 2 lawmakers, that did not belong to any faction, voted against.
On the same day parliament set the date for the presidential elections: October 31, 2004.
Commentary. Making these decisions refuted the apprehensions expressed by the opposition that the elections will be cancelled. The voting results demonstrate an entirely destructive nature of the Yuliya Tymoshenko's bloc and part of the Our Ukraine bloc.
Ukrainian President Visits Russia. President Leonid Kuchma arrived in Mos-cow yesterday for a two day visit to Russia. While in Moscow, Kuchma will meet with President Putin and his newly appointed Prime Minister to discuss a wide range of bilateral political and economic issues, including border demarcations between the two countries in the Azov Sea as well as the joint use of the sea.
Commentary: President Kuchma is the first foreign leader to come to Moscow to meet with the Russian President after Putin’s re-election earlier this week to his second term.
Ukrainian President Visits Thailand, Brunei. President Kuchma has visited Thailand last week. In Bangkok, Kuchma held talks with Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shi-nawatra and Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The two sides signed accords on avoiding double taxation and preventing tax evasion, as well as airways agreement. Before visiting Thailand, Ku-chma went to Brunei on 6 March, where he met with Sultan Jaji Hassanal Bolkiah Muizzaddin Waddaulah.
Commentary: Kuchma’s trips to Brunei and Thailand were the most senior-level visits in the history of Ukrainian relations with those states.
Ukrainian President Orders Halts To Audits In Media Sector During Cam-paign. President Leonid Kuchma earlier this week has instructed the Persecutor-General’s Office, the Interior Ministry, the State Tax Administration, and the Emergency Situations Minis-try to impose a moratorium on audits and financial inspections among media enterprises during the upcoming presidential-election campaign in Ukraine.
Commentary: Kuchma reportedly took the step following a re-quest by the Ukrainian Association of Network Broadcasting. U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State Steven Pifer said that the U.S. welcomed this decision.
Ukrainian-U.S. negotiations for cooperation in utilization of missile fuel have been resumed. A group of U.S. experts of the Department of Defense led by James Reed visited Kiev March 15 through 18. The sides resume talks for cooperation in the program of util-izing solid missile fuel from the Ukrainian intercontinental ballistic missiles SS-24 at the Pavlo-grad Chemical Plant.
The works for utilization of solid missile fuel were carried out within the framework of the agreement between Ukraine and the U.S. concluded on October 25, 1993. In 2000 the U.S. Congress allocated about USD 24 million to accomplish a project in Ukraine involving the con-struction of an installation to dispose of fuel for SS-24 missiles. In June 2003 the U.S. curtailed funding of the project.
At the end of 2003 the President of Ukraine addressed the U.S. President with a request to promote a faster and more objective resolution of the issue. President Bush was in favor of an agreement between the Ukrainian and U.S. experts in finding an alternative method to crown this important project so that it could be technically balanced, environmentally safe and financially expedient.
State Department Concerned Over Closure Of Ukrainian Broadcaster. U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher on 4 March criticized Ukrainian authorities’ deci-sion to halt FM broadcasts by Radio Kontynent, which retransmitted RFE/RL, BBC, Voice of America, Deutsche Welle programming. "The shutdown yesterday of Radio Kontynent and the silencing of RFE/RL, Voice of America, and other international broadcasters is an assault on democracy," Boucher said.
Commentary: Mr. Boucher’s criticism appears to be unfounded and might be based on incomplete information. The closure of Kontynent was in fact ordered by the Ukrainian Supreme Court because Kontynent was operating without a license and because Kontynent’s parent company "Media-center" failed to meet its long-standing financial obliga-tions. When the management of Media-center and Kontynent agreed to broadcast RFE/RL they were well aware that because of their transgressions they were in jeopardy of being shutdown for legal reasons but they neglected to advise the management of RFE/RL of the situa-tion.
Mr. Boucher’s criticism has prompted the Head of Ukraine’s National Council On Tele-vision and Broadcasting Borys Holod to send an open letter to the Secretary of State Collin Pow-ell and to the Head of Federal Communications Commission Michael Powell.
Mr. Holod’s letter is reproduced in its entirety below.
To: US Secretary Of State
Head of Federal Communications Commission
On March 4, 2004, the US State Department councilor Richard Boucher at the beginning of his daily briefing expressed "great concern" about stopping of the work in Ukraine of radio "Kontynent" which broadcast, in particular, programs of Radio Liberty, and the Voice of Amer-ica. The US State Department councilor interpreted it as "the attempts of the Ukrainian authority to limit the access of the community to independent information." That is almost return of Ukraine to the times of totalitarianism when foreign voices "were jammed."
Meanwhile, any unprejudiced person who attentively watches the processes of democra-tization in our country has conclusive proofs of great development of television and radio during the years of Ukraine’s independence. If at the beginning of the 90s in our country there existed 25 television and radio companies, only state-owned ones, now their total numbers are 1100 (and 97 percent of them are commercial and private.) During this time the daily range of television and radio programs has increased 50 times. Ten years ago Ukraine adopted the first CIS law "Of television and audio broadcasting," which was acknowledged to be one of the best on the conti-nent by the Council of Europe specialists. This law, as practically everywhere in the world, fore-sees licensing television and radio companies broadcasting, which is carried out by a government body-National Council of Ukraine on Television and Radio Broadcasting. One of the first who got the license on the right of broadcasting on the channel 100.9 MHz(Kyiv) in the range of 12 hours a day for the period of 5 years on the 27 August was the enterprise "Mass media cen-ter/Media-center" (call-signs of "Radio Kontynent.") Several months later, "Media-center" ad-dressed the National Council with a petition to extend the range of broadcasting 12 hours more (that is 24 hour broadcasting.) A petition was approved. But "Media-center" did not pay the li-cense tax for the right to broadcast for additional time required by law, and that is why it did not get the right for such activity. But this violation of Ukrainian legislation requirements was ig-nored by "Kontynent" and it began to broadcast twenty-four hours a day illegally. In view of ending of 5-year term of license of Radio Kontynent" on December 23, 2000 the National Coun-cil announced the open contest for 100.9Mhz frequency. "Media-center" took part in this contest as well. Another company was acknowledged to be the winner but radio "Kontynent" continued illegally (without license) to broadcast on this frequency.
In the activity of the enterprise "Media-center" there is one more serious legal violation of legislation: on November 28, 1966 this radio company got from Ukrainian state innovation-company according to the agreement a loan totaling 400,000 hryvnias (according to the official rate of exchange of that time it is almost a quarter of a million US dollars.) The stated amount was agreed to be returned on December 31, 1999. But up to this time, only 5,000 hryvnias or 1 percent of the loan has been paid. The rest of the loan has not been repaid. That is "Media-center" in fact is financially bankrupt.
We know that US Federal authorities are very cautious in dealing with structures who are financially irresponsible with tax payers money. We know how cautiously in the course of li-censing of American television and radio companies Federal Commission on Communications treats insolvent claimants on television and radio frequencies. Why then this negative aspect of the "Media-center" (Radio Kontynent) should be ignored? Since the year 2000, the management of "Media-center" has never applied to take part in the contests on licensing radio frequencies (incidentally during this period some 20 such contests have been held, and more than 500 radio frequencies have been considered.) There is one more reason, which is purely of creative charac-ter. Radio "Kontynent" practically did not prepare its own programs, having given almost all air time on the frequency 100.9Mhz to another radio organization (which also did not have National Council’s license) and to broadcasting programs of foreign radio stations. That is, in fact the matter which concerns passing radio frequency in sublease to other broadcasters, which is pro-hibited by the Ukrainian legislation.
Now back to US State Department councilor’s remarks concerning Ukrainian authority limiting public access to independent information i.e, RFE/RL, the "Voice of America" etc.) First, these radio stations are represented in the air on the large number of Ukrainian radio or-ganizations both in regional centers of Ukraine (on powerful A.M. radio transmitters) and on the waves and wire net of the first channel of Ukrainian National radio company (and it covers 100 percent of our country’s listeners.) If to take number one media outlet in the world, television, Ukrainian legislation allows Ukrainian television companies to give up to 50 percent to foreign program product. The percentage of foreign programs is even more in cable television nets (in Ukraine there are more than 500 of them), which depending on capacity broadcast in full volume from 10 to 70 foreign television companies (these specifically include US, British, German, French, Polish, Russian as well as other countries.) State National Television Company of Ukraine weekly broadcasts on the first channel the program "Window to the USA" which is pre-pared by "The Voice of America" services.
In Ukraine there are also radio and television programs broadcasting to foreign countries. Undoubtedly, these programs (particularly in English) might be of interest to some parts of the US public, in particular to the Americans of Ukrainian origin. But none of American television or radio stations broadcast such programs. Where is the reciprocity?
In analyzing the situation in Ukraine (particularly regarding the processes in television and radio-information sphere) we would like to see some objectivity demonstrated toward our country by high-ranking US State Department officials.
With great respect,
Head of Ukraine’s National Council
on Television and Radio Broadcasting