Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Ukraine On the Brink?

Fisticuffs, smoke bombs, and a legislator hiding behind an umbrella to avoid the barrage of eggs hurled his way.  Such was the scene Tuesday in Kiev, where Ukraine's law givers convened to ponder whether to allow Russia's Black Sea fleet to stay moored at Ukraine's port of Sevastopol for an addition 25 years.  The decision by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich was a Faustian bargain.  Ukraine, tipped to the economic edge by the global financial crisis, is desperate to save money any way it can.  In return for the Black Sea fleet lease extension, Moscow is dropping gas prices to Ukraine about a third.  However, many Ukrainians, the more patriotic in the Western parts, see the pact as nothing more than a loss of sovereignty and act of treason. 

The Informant has covered the background on the deal here

The folks over at Russian Today, probably had to hold back the snide snickers as the antics unfolded in Kiev.

For those keeping score, the Russian fleet in Sevastopol comprises 16,200 servicemen, a rocket cruiser, a large destroyer and about 40 other vessels.

Yulia Tymoshenko, the gas queen and former prime minister who lost to Yanukovich in this year's presidential poll, was quick to get her quotes into print. 

"Today will go down as a black page in the history of Ukraine and the Ukrainian parliament,"  Tymoshenko said.

Later at a rally, Tymoshenko said: "We have one slogan: Ukraine is not for sale. We must build a powerful system for the defense of Ukraine."

Amid the chaos and smoke, the parliament ratified the lease extension by 236 votes -- 10 more than the minimum required for it to pass -- and then promptly adopted the 2010 state budget which is key for securing $12 billion in credit from the International Monetary Fund.

The hryvna, (Ukraine's currency), and sense argument was hammered home by Yanukovich's cabinet members.

"There is no alternative to this decision -- because ratification means a lower price for gas and a lower price for gas means the budget," Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said.

"The budget means agreement with the IMF, the possibility of getting investments. It is a program of development for Ukraine in the future."

In Strasbourg, Yanukovich feigned as if nothing was going on back at home, saying: "Nothing unexpected took place in the Ukrainian parliament."

He also took a dig at his political nemesis, Tymoshenko, saying she too was ready to extend the Black Sea fleet lease if she had been elected.   
He said the gas deal she had negotiated with the Russians in January 2009 had not brought in a penny. "I have secured a return of $40 billion on gas purchases," Yanukovich said.
Russian reaction?  President Dmitry Medvedev said "sound reason" had won the day. 
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin dismissed the protesters as "opposition hooligans".
Some argue, Yanukovich has trashed the country's constitution to ram through the gas-for-fleet deal. 

They argue the deal should be put to a referendum. 
"Based on the ideology of the Ukrainian Constitution and current legislation, and in order to give popular legitimacy to the "Kharkiv pact between Yanukovych and Medvedev" relevant changes must be made to the Constitution via a referendum, or a referendum should be held on the idea of the Russian Black Sea Fleet staying in Ukraine until 2042," Mykola Tomenko said, reports the BYuT press service.
The lawmakers may have ratified the pact, but the people haven't had their last say yet.  Stay tuned...
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