Monday, November 30, 2009

Ukraine: statement by PACE pre-election delegation

The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) pre-election delegation observed an overall free and competitive atmosphere in Ukraine in the run-up to the 17 January 2010 Presidential election. The situation with the freedom of the media improved significantly after the 2004 elections. The delegation notes the commitment and endeavors of journalists, although it recognises that the media works under heavy financial and business influences. In order to assist more efficiently the Ukrainian people to make a well-founded choice, politicians should have no role in setting the agenda for the media. Intimidation is, hopefully, a thing of the past. The Central Election Commission assured the delegation that voters’ lists are being improved although the delegation remains uncertain as to the state of progress in this area.

At the same time, the delegation is concerned over dwindling public confidence of an electorate whose high expectations of a rapid change had not been met. As a result, political cynicism is on the rise. The delegation is concerned about the strong interconnection between politics and financial flows. The political struggle is widely regarded as a struggle of personalities, ambitions and financial interests rather than a competition of political platforms and ideas. The delegation was upset by the information it received about negative campaigning by candidates; a particular source of concern was the use of hate-speech and anti-Semitic slurs. The delegation expects that such incidents are condemned by political players.

Despite repeated Council of Europe recommendations, Ukraine’s electoral legislation, although improved, is still not fully compatible with Council of Europe standards. The proposed July amendments to the relevant legislation marked a step backwards in some aspects of the electoral legislation.

Nonetheless, given the little time left, this delegation believes that, with true political will, the existing legislation, flawed as it is, could still create a functioning framework for this election. The delegation urges political parties in Ukraine to bring the electoral legislation in line with Council of Europe standards rapidly after the new President takes up Office and not only weeks before the next vote.

Ukraine needs stability and a solid public confidence in the electoral process. This requires that those who lose the race following a democratically conducted election accept the results whatever they are.

The Delegation was in Kyiv from 24 to 26 November 2009 at the invitation of Mr. Lytvyn, Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada, to assess the political situation in Ukraine in the run-up to the 17 January 2010 Presidential election.

Press release: PACE, 26 November 2009

Why Is Berlusconi Visiting Belarus?

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will be the first EU leader to visit Belarus in a decade and a half when he arrives on November 30.

For years, such visits have been taboo. The European Union largely regards Belarus as a pariah state for its regular crackdowns on opposition and rigging of poll results to keep President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in power.

So why is Berlusconi breaking with tradition now?

The official reason is that he is paying a reciprocal visit to Minsk as customary under international diplomatic protocol.

Lukashenka paid a visit in April to Rome, where he met with Pope Benedict XVI and had dinner with Berlusconi and Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini. Now, a return visit by Italian head of government is in order.

But the fact that Berlusconi is going to Minsk at a time when Brussels and Lukashenka still have very guarded relations has raised eyebrows.

Brussels has maintained a list of top Belarusian officials -- including Lukashenka -- under a visa ban since 2004 intended to prevent them from visiting EU countries. Over the past three years, the visa ban has been suspended for most of the officials, including the president, but it still remains nominally in effect.

The travel ban remains fully enforced for five people -- Central Election Commission head Lidziya Yarmoshyna and four former officials whom the EU sees as possibly involved in the disappearances of opposition politicians in Belarus.

Still, Brussels has an interest in periodically gauging whether Minsk can be persuaded to be less repressive in exchange for better ties with the EU. And there are some signs Berlusconi's reciprocal visit may fall into that category.

Italy Reaches Out

Jean-Pierre Darnis, deputy head of the security and defense department at Rome's Institute of International Affairs, says that Italy has a long foreign policy tradition of being a pilot in exploring relations with problematic countries, and Berlusconi's trip may fall within that framework.

"The visit of Mr. Berlusconi to Minsk is somehow the illustration of a quite traditional trend in Italian foreign policy,” Darnis said. “Italy is an ally of the U.S.A. through transatlantic relations and NATO. And that is a strong pillar of [Rome's] foreign policy, and it is also a founding member of the European Union, and that is the other strong pillar.”

“But then, outside of those two pillars, there is still a capability of action, of moving, of Italy making contacts with countries that might be perceived as problematic,” he continued. “The example of Libya and the recent relations between Italy and Libya are an illustration."

Darnis explains that Italy's foreign policy reflects the realities of the country's long tradition of constantly exploring business opportunities worldwide. That gives an impetus for seemingly impromptu trips -- even to states that at a given moment might be pariahs.

RFE/RL Belarus Service correspondent Jan Maksymiuk agrees that Berlusconi is one of the few European leaders who can visit Minsk and explore better ties without committing Brussels to follow suit.

But he says that is partly also due to Berlusconi's own personal reputation as a somewhat extravagant politician who takes risks that more cautious leaders might avoid.

"Berlusconi is the best politician for all the people in Brussels for a visit to Lukashenka, because if nothing sensible comes of this visit, everybody in Brussels can say, ‘It’s just Berlusconi, he’s prone to such vagaries in political life, we are not responsible for his behavior,’” Maksymiuk said. “But if Lukashenka proves to be more favorable to courting from the West, then Berlusconi may just see his visit as a success."

Lukashenka’s Balancing Act

Lukashenka has sent signals that he may be interested in shifting Minsk slightly westward as he plays a delicate balancing game with Moscow -- Belarus' main ally and trading partner.

The Belarusian president needs Moscow, and its tolerance for Lukashenka's squashing of any political opposition. But he also wants to maintain independence from the Kremlin.

In what may have been an additional show of independence this year, Lukashenka visited Vilnius in September. He said during that visit that Minsk and Vilnius could jointly add to the "constructive interaction along the East-West axis" and expressed hope that the EU will lower Schengen visa costs for Belarusian citizens.

It remains to be seen what, if anything, will come out of Berlusconi's visit.

But Berlusconi, who most often attracts the media's attention for scandals associated with his private life, is a shrewd deal-maker who rarely travels abroad without advancing Italian business interests, including his own.

Belarus, which has no significant natural resources, is important as a transit state for Russian pipelines delivering energy to the EU. It also has a sizable military industry which seeks Western technology to maintain competitiveness in the global arms export market.

Berlusconi, a media mogul reputed to own half of Italy's television and press, is closely tied to the country's state energy company ENI and the quasi-state aerospace and weapons conglomerate Finmeccanica.

By Charles Recknagel . Published on 28 November 2009
Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Friday, November 27, 2009

OSCE/ODIHR opens election observation mission for presidential election in Ukraine

The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) yesterday formally opened its election observation mission for the 17 January 2010 presidential election in Ukraine.

The mission is headed by Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini, a senior Swiss diplomat, and consists of 16 experts based in the capital and 60 long-term observers to be deployed across the country shortly. In addition, ODIHR has requested 600 short-term observers to monitor election day proceedings.

The mission will assess the entire election process in terms of its compliance with OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections, as well as national legislation.

It will focus on the legislative framework and its implementation, the work of the election administration and relevant state bodies, the election campaign, the media, access of domestic observers, and the resolution of election-related disputes.

On election day, observers will monitor the opening of polling stations, voting, the counting of ballots, and the tabulation of results at all levels. For election day, the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission will join efforts with the delegations of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and other parliamentary partners.

The day after the election, the mission will issue a statement of its preliminary findings and conclusions. A final report on the observation of the entire electoral process will be issued approximately two months after the end of the observation mission.

The mission will remain in the country should there be a second round.

The OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission and the OSCE Project Co-ordinator in Ukraine operate separately under their specific mandates.

Further information on the mission, including a Needs Assessment Mission report, can be found on the OSCE website at

Press Release: OSCE. Published on 26 November 2009

OSCE media freedom representative urges Moldovan government and opposition to jointly continue media reforms, foster pluralism

The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Miklos Haraszti, said today following meetings in Chisinau that he hoped the new Moldovan government coalition would seek consensus on the further reforms needed to foster pluralism in the media, and that the opposition Communist Party would co-operate in these efforts.

"The aim of my visit was to get first-hand information on media policies of the new government," said Haraszti. "I see somewhat more pluralism in the media sphere, but also sense a fierce resistance from the opposition and the media outlets affiliated with it to allow for an impartial information space to emerge. It is important that the new Government does not repeat the mistakes of the past and seeks to establish balance by adhering to internationally accepted standards of media governance."

He also commented on recent amendments to the Broadcasting Code which require a simple majority, rather than a qualified majority, in the Parliament to elect candidates to the Audio-Visual Council (the country's media authority) and the Supervisory Board of the public service broadcaster:

"The simple majority rule is acceptable only as a one-off measure so that the board of the public service broadcaster, which was blocked because of a lack of a quorum, can resume its work. The following selection and election process must be inclusive. I hope that both sides in Parliament will do everything in their power to come to an agreement about the candidates," Haraszti said.

He welcomed as necessary the plans of the Parliament's media committee to form a media legislation working group comprising all interested stakeholders, including opposition, civil society and international community representatives.

"A new agreement has to be reached, and scrutinized by the international community, about mutually acceptable guarantees of media independence. The continuing media reform should enforce the transparency of media ownership, revise the restrictive law on state secrets adopted by the previous government and improve access to information for journalists," said Haraszti.

"My Office stands ready to assist Moldova in its reform efforts, but no law is good enough without a willingness to co-operate among the political forces in the country."

Haraszti's visit to Moldova on 24 and 25 November was initiated by Ambassador Philip Remler, the Head of the OSCE Mission to Moldova, and Kalman Mizsei, EU Special Representative for Moldova. He met Acting President and Parliamentary Speaker Mihai Ghimpu, as well as Corina Fusu, the Chair of the Media Commission of the Parliament, Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Popov, Mark Tkachuc, the Advisor to the President of the Communist Party and Gheorge Gorincioi, the Chairman of the Audiovisual Co-ordination Council. Haraszti also met representatives of international organizations and foreign embassies.

Source: Press Release - OSCE. Published on 26 November 2009

Over EUR 90 million for energy efficiency and climate measures in Eastern Europe

Following a Swedish initiative, an international cooperation project for Eastern Europe was launched today in Stockholm. This cooperation project aims to provide financing for large investments in the area of energy efficiency and the environment. As part of the launch a donor conference was held in which Minister for International Development Cooperation Gunilla Carlsson, European Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner and Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Hryhoriy Nemyria participated.

The partnership has already received strong support, with pledges made by a large number of countries to provide financial contributions. The pledges made at the donor conference amounted to just over EUR 90 million for the period 2010–2014. Sweden has promised to contribute EUR 24 million to the support fund over a five-year period.

“There is a great need for reforms in the energy sector in Eastern Europe. Energy use in Ukraine today is only one third as efficient as in the EU countries on average. This new cooperation project provides clear support for the implementation of reforms and is a concrete measure ahead of the climate negotiations in Copenhagen (COP15). Modernising the energy sector in Eastern Europe is also key to greater energy security in Europe as a whole,” says Minister for International Development Cooperation Gunilla Carlsson.

The new cooperation project is a Swedish EU initiative and goes by the name of Eastern Europe Energy Efficiency and Environment Partnership (EEEEEP). Besides Sweden, the other countries to have promised financial support to the EEEEEP are Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Norway, Poland and the United States. The European Commission will also provide extensive financial support to the partnership, as will Ukraine.

Involved in the EEEEEP are a whole host of bilateral donors, the European Commission, Ukraine and international financial institutions such as the European Investment Bank (EIB), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the Nordic Investment Bank (NIB), the Nordic Environment Finance Corporation (NEFCO) and the World Bank/International Finance Corporation (IFC).

Work in the EEEEEP will initially focus on the financing of large public projects in Ukraine, especially in the district heating sector. Other energy and environmental measures may also be eligible for support. In order to receive financing, investments should lead to a significant reduction in energy consumption and positive effects on the climate.

The money paid into the support fund for the EEEEEP will be used to finance preliminary studies and as investment grants for larger projects, in combination with loans from the international financial institutions involved in the EEEEEP.

Source: Swedish Presidency of the EU. Published on 26 November 2009.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Interview: U.S. Envoy Says Washington 'Will Not Force Values' On Central Asia

The U.S. deputy assistant secretary for South and Central Asian affairs, George Krol, says in an interview with RFE/RL that although the United States seeks democratic changes in the five Central Asian countries, it is not attempting to "force its values or institutions" on them.

Instead, the United States offers regional heavyweights Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan dialogue which respects the sovereignty of their governments.

Krol, who just returned from a trip to Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, also discusses U.S. energy policy in the region during his interview with RFE/RL Brussels correspondent Ahto Lobjakas.

RFE/RL: In your opinion, given your experience of the region, what chances do you think the European Union has of tapping into Central Asian natural-gas reserves?

George Krol:
I think that European companies, I should say, have as much chance as any of the international companies in developing their relationships with the oil and gas producers in Central Asia. So I think that it's, as it were, a playing field in which all the international companies can involve themselves -- as they are in Kazakhstan.

Turkmenistan is somewhat of a different case because they have a different policy -- so far -- of how they interact with foreign energy companies. For instance, that they -- so far -- are reluctant to have foreign energy companies involved in production-sharing agreements, for instance, on the landmass of Turkmenistan, whereas they're open to having the offshore, as it were, blocs competed upon by [foreign] companies.

So I don't know if the European companies have an advantage any more than any other companies in doing energy business in Central Asia.

RFE/RL: This addresses the regulatory side of the issue. But what about the political side -- the readiness of the Central Asian countries to go ahead and back a trans-Caspian pipeline and the infrastructure needed to get that gas to Europe?

If you're talking about a pipeline from, say, Turkmenistan across the Caspian [Sea], the Turkmen position has been that they will sell their gas at the border of their country, but that it would be up to whatever the receiving entity is to, as it were, build the pipeline to the border and that they would be able to supply it [with gas]. There are a variety of issues of how to go about doing that.

So, it seems that there is a certain willingness -- on the part also of Kazakhstan -- to send their gas, or their oil in the case of Kazakhstan through pipelines that go westward. But there need to be worked out various arrangements as to who will build these pipelines, how they will be operated, where they will be located, and who else needs to be involved in making these kinds of determinations -- such as, if it's across the Caspian, does it involve all Caspian states, as it certainly fits Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, that arrangement.

So there is, I think, a fair amount of discussion going on on how, exactly, to set up these pipelines. But these are, I think, very long-term projects, they would require a great deal of investment, a great deal of technological work as well. But as I understand, those discussions have been continuing about how, as it were, to develop these various routes to get gas and oil across the Caspian -- and also using the existing lines that go up through Russia from Kazakhstan.

RFE/RL: Does the United States play any role -- official or unofficial -- in facilitating European access to Central Asian gas? U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs Matthew Bryza, for example, has in recent years been very vocal in promoting what has occasionally looked like a second energy policy for the EU.

We have an envoy for Eurasian energy, Ambassador Richard Morningstar, who is probably the best person [to ask], because I myself am not as deeply involved in the energy issues with the European Union as Ambassador Morningstar -- that is his responsibility as the envoy dealing with Eurasian energy.

He's been travelling in the region, that is, he's been in Europe, I think he was in Poland and elsewhere, and he's travelled to Central Asia as well. I think he's been discussing with European countries and here in the EU -- as you remember, he was ambassador to the EU as well -- about the energy strategy of the European Union, as well as, basically, helping to -- and I think it's a matter of discussion -- to, as it were, work out our own stated policy of being in favor of diversification of the distribution of the energy resources out of Central Asia, and to see that these resources can get to the markets in most efficient ways, and in ways that also protect the security of those routes.

[The U.S.] position has long been that relying on a monopoly route is vulnerable for a lot of reasons -- for technical reasons, if something should happen to the line, and the like -- and therefore it just makes a great deal of sense that there be multiple routes that can be used in order to get these resources to the world market. And that, I believe, continues with this administration as well in working with all the interested parties in the area.

Reaching Out To Central Asia

RFE/RL: On a more Central Asian note, what are the horizons of U.S. policy vis-a-vis these five countries. How far ahead do you look and where would you like to see them within that time frame?

Our relationship -- that of the United States with each of these five countries -- is long term. Ever since they emerged from the collapse of the Soviet Union and the United States established diplomatic relations with each of these countries, it's to develop a relationship with each of them based upon our common interests and common respect, but also fundamentally in recognition and support of their sovereignty and independence as states, and in their development as sovereign and independent states.

This has been the long-term American position, certainly since I've been involved --since 1991-92 -- myself. [It's] a long-term relationship of working not only with the governments, but also with the peoples of each of these countries in developing a relationship between the United States and each of them that reflects our mutual interests and our values.

RFE/RL: You haven't mentioned the words democracy or the rule of law. Does that mean they're not on your agenda?

No, no, no. I think that in the development of societies and governments that are stable, and are reflective of the needs and responsibilities of the governed and the governing, it requires the establishment of the rule of law. And we would say also a democratic system in which the governments are responsible to the people and the people have the ability to influence the governments.

This is a long process of developing democratic institutions, certainly in societies where they had never existed. And, again, it has to be conducted with full respect [to the fact] that these are independent, sovereign countries.

The position of the United States, and particularly of the Obama administration -- as President [Barak] Obama has stated himself -- [is] that the United States doesn't wish to force its values or its own institutions on these countries, but wishes to engage in a constructive dialogue, in engagement with these countries and these societies in order to help foster an environment and the development of democratic institutions and democratic values that are, again, not forced on these societies, but are understood [and] are accepted by the societies and their governments as a means of their own development as stable [and] prosperous states and societies.

RFE/RL: Do you -- or does the United States -- see the kind of progress that the EU appears to have seen in Uzbekistan when it recently removed the last vestiges of its sanctions against Tashkent?

I think that the issue here is what sort of engagement you can have with Uzbekistan that is constructive? It is not to say that there are [not] issues that we and I think the European Union continue to have with the Uzbek authorities in certain areas of their rule of law and their respect for human rights of their citizens, and things of that nature. But at least from the perspective of the United States, we feel that a policy of constructive engagement with the authorities and society is one that perhaps can enable us to, as I said, work more constructively in these very sensitive areas in the country.

I think that when I was just in Uzbekistan, I could see that there are certain developments that are, I would say, very progressive in the sense that they have taken very seriously the issue of trafficking of persons -- where they've set up centers for dealing with the victims of this, both men and women. So they're taking things like this very seriously and putting resources to them.

Kazakh Heading OSCE

RFE/RL: Do you still feel that Kazakhstan is deserving of the distinction of the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) next year?

Well, the United States has supported the chairmanship of Kazakhstan of the OSCE and we believe and will work to ensure that it will be a successful chairmanship. That is, as we define it, it would be that [Kazakhstan] maintains the values and even can progress them in the three general "baskets" of OSCE activities -- which are security, economics, and the human dimension and human rights.

As you probably know, when Kazakhstan received the nod, as it were, from the OSCE in Madrid [in 2007] to assume this [chairmanship], they took upon themselves certain responsibilities and obligations in order to commit themselves to the principles of the OSCE. We have a strong dialogue with Kazakhstan on their chairmanship. It was a matter that I discussed with them when I was in Astana just a few weeks ago, the deputy foreign minister of Kazakhstan was in Washington, as well.

So there are very close consultations between the United States and Kazakhstan, as I think there are between Kazakhstan and other partners of the OSCE, to see that this will be a successful chairmanship.

RFE/RL: Tajikistan is seemingly attempting to balance the Russian influence in the region by developing closer ties with Iran. Is this a matter of concern for the United States?

We understand that Tajikistan is a sovereign and independent country and therefore has a right to develop its relationships with other countries in the area. I think that as long as these relationships don't threaten the fundamental interests of the United States or others in the region, I don't think that it's a matter or cause of concern. and I don't see that anything that's in these relationships is a matter of concern for the United States at this point.

By RFE/RL. Published on 24 November 2009
Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Ukraine '10: In Presidential Race, The Biggest Billboard Wins

Size does matter. Particularly when it comes to campaign ads in Ukraine's January 17 presidential election.

Here, the guiding principle is: the bigger, the better. In a country where advertising was practically nonexistent during the Soviet era, today the billboard is king.

One of the first things a visitor notices upon leaving Ukraine's main airport, Boryspil, en route to Kyiv is the seemingly endless chain of billboards that escort her all the way to the capital. Currently, it's the slogans of presidential hopefuls that make up the lion's share of this type of advertising.

Vadym Karasyov, a prominent Ukrainian political analyst and director of the Institute for Global Strategies, recently made the claim that Ukrainians are not guided by political programs when they go to the polls. Rather, he argued, they vote for the slogan they like best.

So Ukraine's 18 presidential candidates have their work cut out for them -- and billboards are proving perhaps the biggest and most immediate way of bringing those slogans to the voter.

The 'She' Campaign

Yulia Tymoshenko, the current prime minister and one of the leading contenders for the presidency, launched her billboard attack well before the campaign's official kickoff on October 18.

As early as August, signs were already appearing over the capital's streets bearing messages like: "They strike -- she works," "They block -- she works," and "They ruin -- she works." The slogans were unveiled references to the Ukrainian parliament, which has spent the good part of 2009 doing basically nothing because one faction or another was blocking the rostrum.

Despite the fact that the signs bore no identifiable copyright marks, photographs, or indication of political affiliation, it wasn't difficult to decipher that the "she" in question was none other than Tymoshenko.

Now "she" is all over the country, on billboards of all shapes and sizes. And in a clever turn, the "she" has now become more than just Ms. Tymoshenko: Now "she" is Ukraine herself. As a recent ad announces: "She works, she will win, she is Ukraine."

Some political analysts have praised the "she" campaign as memorable. And indeed, the charismatic Tymoshenko, with her ever-present braids, appears to have had little trouble solidifying her public image. Current polls put her in second place, with a healthy lead over her former Orange Revolution partner, incumbent President Viktor Yushchenko.

'For The People'

The man she trails behind is Viktor Yanukovych, someone who has had his share of negative image perception. Yanukovych, leader of today's parliamentary opposition, lost in the last presidential election to Yushchenko.

A tall, imposing figure of a man, Yanukovych is an awkward and undynamic communicator. Twice imprisoned for theft and violence in his youth, Yanukovych continues to be perceived by some as a thug, despite having his criminal record expunged.

Whether the very digitally enhanced image beaming down from his campaign billboards will change that perception remains to be seen. Where Tymoshenko has identified herself as Ukraine, Yanukovych, true to form, is simply himself.

Initially, Yanukovych's billboards boasted that each and every person's complaint, idea, and view would be heard. The next round of ads, logically, suggested the listening period was over and one of action had begun. Last but not least, a third group of Yanukovych billboards proclaimed, in a brusque and seemingly Soviet manner: "Your opinion has been heard. The problem has been solved."

Currently, his leading campaign slogan is "Ukraine for the people." In a recent call-in program with RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, political analysts deemed the slogan ineffective and perilously reminiscent of the old Soviet slogan "Everything for the people." One listener even suggested that if Yanukovych really is listening to all views and all people, then he should listen to the portion of the electorate who don't want to see him become president and quit the race.

Misfires And Mystery Men

Another candidate who has taken his campaign to the billboards is the current parliamentary speaker, Volodymyr Lytvyn. He plastered Kyiv with bright yellow, anonymous billboards with such mysterious slogans as "Only he is worthy of leading Ukraine," and "Only he can be trusted with our future."

While no one had any trouble identifying the "she" as Tymoshenko, for weeks no one quite knew who the "he" in question could be. Some suspected it was the incumbent, Yushchenko. But then Lytvyn dispelled the mystery and, overnight, his face appeared on billboards.

The youngest of the candidates, 35-year-old former Foreign Minister and parliamentary speaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk, was initially thought by many to be Ukraine's fresh young hope in these elections. He created the Front for Change, claimed to be a new style of politician, and by spring 2008 he was pulling in 12-13-percent support.

And then he hired a Russian team to run his campaign. They devised a pseudo-military approach and message for him. An intent-looking Yatsenyuk now peers down from a billboard that proclaims "Ukraine will be saved by new industrialization." Promises extend to a battle-ready army. A productive agrarian sector. Healthy and educated people. Yatsenyuk's youthfulness and new approach have evaporated amid a misguided, khaki-colored campaign that harks back to Soviet ideas and slogans.

Billboard slogans are slowly giving way to television commercials, but the boards still continue to be omnipresent throughout the country.

Tymoshenko's slogans have even inspired witty rebuttals from another female candidate on two of the biggest billboards to date, which claim: "I will win, so she can stop working," and "I will win, so she can have a rest."

Those promises are made by Inna Bohoslovska, formerly of Yanukovych's Party of Regions, a so-called technological candidate with no chance of winning but whose sole purpose is to siphon votes from others.

By Irena Chalupa. Published on 24 November 2009
Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

OSCE media freedom representative to visit Moldova

The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Miklos Haraszti, will be in Chisinau tomorrow to discuss the media freedom situation in Moldova.

The visit is aimed at assisting the new government, which took office in September this year, to further promote free and pluralistic media in pursuance of its OSCE commitments.

Haraszti will meet Acting President and Parliamentary Speaker Mihai Ghimpu, Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Popov, Gheorghe Gorincioi, the Chair of the Audiovisual Co-ordination Council, and representatives of the opposition.

The visit is co-organized with the OSCE Mission to Moldova.

Press Release: OSCE, VIENNA, 24 November 2009

Friday, November 20, 2009

Top posts filled

At a press conference on Thursday evening, the names of the individuals appointed to the top posts discussed at the informal summit between the EU’s heads of state and government, were presented. Herman Van Rompuy was appointed permanent President of the European Council, Catherine Ashton was appointed High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Pierre de Boissieu Secretary-General of the Council Secretariat.

After an apparently successful working dinner, a proud Fredrik Reinfeldt presented the EU’s two new leaders: the permanent President Herman Van Rompuy and the ‘Minister for Foreign Affairs’ Catherine Ashton. The crowd of journalists assembled in the press conference room in the Council building in Brussels was of record size.

“The whole of the EU stands behind these names. We showed this tonight, reaching these unanimous decisions”, said Fredrik Reinfeldt at the press conference.

Will represent all Member States

Herman Van Rompuy may not be the most famous of EU politicians, but he was tipped for the posts as President of the European Council by many. He was elected Belgian Prime Minister last year, and has held high posts in the Belgian political leadership since 1975. He has been both Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Budget. Now, he will instead have the task of representing all the EU’s Member States. This was something he spoke of when commenting the decision:

“The EU belongs to us all and should be there for each Member State. We are on a common journey heading towards a common destination, but we all have our own luggage and we must be allowed to be different from one another”, he said.
“There have been many speculations on what the permanent President’s profile should look like, but only one profile is possible. A profile characterised by dialogue, unity and action.”

"Honoured and privileged"

The new High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton, who today holds the post as European Trade Commission, said she was deeply honoured and privileged.

“Working with both the Council and the Commission will be a challenge, and being the first person ever to hold this post will be a challenge. I was the first woman British European Commissioner, then I was the first woman Trade Commissioner and now the first woman on this post.”

Fredrik Reinfeldt stressed that the choices of Baroness Ashton and Mr Van Rompuy was an important step towards raising the EU’s voice in the world.

“We were looking for individuals who could create continuity, who could bring us together, be Europe’s voice, face and presence in the world. I think we have achieved this” said Fredrik Reinfeldt, receiving the support of European Commission President José Manuel Barroso.

Background: Herman Van Rompuy was born on 31 October 1947 in Brussels and is Prime Minister of Belgium, a post he has held since December 2008. In 1975 he became adviser to Prime Minister Tindemans and then to Minister for Finance Gaston Geens. Between 1993 and 1999 Mr Van Rompuy held the posts of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Budget in Belgium. In 2007 he was elected President of the Belgian Chamber of Representatives.

Catherine Ashton is European Trade Commissioner. She has a background as an economist and is a member of the British House of Lords, representing the Labour party. Baroness Ashton has also served as Leader of the House of Lords, where she was responsible for the examination of the Treaty of Lisbon. She was born in 1956 in Upholland in the United Kingdom and has the title of Baroness of Upholland.

Press Statement: Swedish Presidency of the EU. Published on 19 November 2009


“Catherine Ashton is a good choice for the job of the Union’s Foreign policy chief “said Martin Schulz, the leader of the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament.

“In the House of Lords, she managed to secure Britain’s support for the Lisbon Treaty, showing genuine negotiating skills”, he said.

“As commissioner for trade, she has acquired experience in very complex international negotiations. I have no doubt that she will perform her new duties with distinction”, he added.

“We fought hard to achieve this goal for a member of our political family: we actually explicitly linked this job to the renewal of Mr. Barroso’s mandate “; Schulz continued.

"I am particularly pleased that such a capable woman has been appointed to this senior post. Her nomination is a small compensation fro the low level of representation of women in the Commission overall.

“Catherine Ashton, we should not forget, will be the number two of the European commission and, as such, she will be the voice and the face of the Union’s external policy”, the Socialists and Democrats leader concluded.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Vigenin meets the democratic opposition of Belarus

Euronest Co-Chairman Kristian Vigenin met the representatives of the democratic opposition of Belarus, led by Alaksandar Milinkievič, during which both sides exchanged their views on the situation in Balarus and the latter´s participation in the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly.

Vigenin stressed the importance of Belarus´ participation as observer in Euronest Parliamentary Assembly, which should be regarded as a way of building mutual understanding and creating opportunities to address issues of concern for both sides.

Referring to the Council conclusions of 17 November 2009, Milinkievič welcomed the new possibilities which have opened up for dialogue and deepened cooperation between the EU and the government of Belarus. He referred to this approach by the EU as a stepping stone to overcome the difficulties which the Belarusian people are undergoing under the current regime, as oppoesed to sanctions which led to no major developments in the recent years.

In its conclusions of 17 November, "The Council recalls the Joint Declaration of the Prague Eastern Partnership Summit on 7 May 2009 and welcomes the constructive and active participation of Belarus in the Eastern Partnership. In this context, and recognising the importance of enhanced people-to-people contacts, the Council invites the Commission to prepare recommendations in view of obtaining negotiating directives on visa facilitation and readmission agreements with Belarus, taking into account the common approach on visa facilitation, the recent evaluation of the existing visa facilitation agreements, as well as the findings of a technical expert mission to Belarus, and with a view to the possible adoption of these negotiating directives once relevant conditions are met.

The European Union reaffirms its readiness to deepen its relations with Belarus in light of further developments in Belarus towards democracy, human rights and the rule of law and to assist the country in attaining these objectives. Subject to progress in Belarus in these areas, the Council stands ready to take steps towards upgrading contractual relations with Belarus. Meanwhile, the Council invites the Commission to make a proposal for a joint interim plan to set priorities for reforms, inspired by the Action Plans developed in the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy, to be implemented with Belarus."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

PACE rapporteurs call for immediate release of Georgian teenagers held in Tskhinvali

The two co-rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) for the war between Georgia and Russia today called on the de facto authorities in Tskhinvali to release without delay the four Georgian teenagers arrested on 4 November 2009.

“The arrest and prolonged detention of these young people will only increase the tensions and bad blood between the people in this bitterly divided region,” said the co-rapporteurs, Mátyás Eörsi (Hungary, ALDE) and Luc Van den Brande (Belgium, EPP/CD).

“Moreover, this incident once more underscores the need for full and unimpeded access for international monitors on both sides of the administrative boundary of the breakaway region of South Ossetia, as we have repeatedly called for in our reports and Assembly resolutions.”

Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Strasbourg, 18.11.2009

Regal looks to help Ukraine wean itself off Russian gas

Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, Ukraine has been hooked on cheap gas supplied more and more reluctantly by Russia. But it's often overlooked the country produces around 25-30% of the gas it consumes, placing it just behind the UK, Venezuela and Kazakhstan on the list of the world's gas-producing countries. Now independent producers like Regal Petroleum are looking to help make Ukraine gas independent.

For that to happen, though, Ukraine needs Russia to continue with its policy of clawing back the discount it gives to Ukraine on its gas. Since 2005, the price Ukraine pays for gas imports has increased about five-fold, from $50 per thousand cubic metres in 2005 to what will be nearing $300 in 2010. When at the end of 2009, a remaining 20% price rebate for 2009 ends, Ukraine will finally be off the cheap gas hook, a process most other Warsaw Pact countries successfully completed years ago.

"Ukraine will move to European prices for gas in 2010, we are sure of this," John Greer, CEO of Regal Petroleum, the London-listed gas producer operating mostly in Ukraine, tells bne. "Ukraine has enjoyed a fuel discount for a long time thanks to its northern neighbour, but now it's time to get off the hydrocarbon hook. If no one else does, then the [International Monetary Fund] will make sure of this, to ensure a level playing field. And this is good news for Ukraine and for us."

For the handful of independent producers such as Regal Petroleum, the price surge suddenly makes gas production in Ukraine a more economically viable business. And with the government keen to reduce dependency on Russian gas, there is increasing political support for having foreign investors operate in the country. "The shift to European prices in 2010 marks the beginning of a new beginning for Ukraine's gas production," says Harry Verkuil, Regal Petroleum's Chief Operating Officer. "We are confident the country has the potential to attain self-sufficiency in hydrocarbons."

Dig deep

The move to European pricing is crucial to unlocking the reserves in Ukraine's Dniepro-Donetsk basin, which accounts for 90% of the country's oil and gas production. After half a century of production has depleted fields there, Ukraine's remaining gas lies deep underground, and so is expensive and technically challenging to get at. "We have great respect for Ukraine's drillers," says Verkuil, "but they are working with outdated Soviet-era technology. They can drill down to 5,000 metres, but it takes them one to two years. It takes us six months, and then we go even deeper."

Some 90% of Ukraine's gas is extracted by state-owned companies lacking capital for investment and any market stimulus to improve efficiency. Regal, on the other hand, has imported two state-of-the-art rigs from the US, enabling them to drill faster than the Soviet-era rigs and also incorporate modern evaluation technologies unique in Ukraine. Regal also sees huge potential for working over older wells in partly depleted fields to tap residual gas. Using new drilling techniques such as horizontal drilling and fracturing will also be beneficial to increase production. "The Ukrainian companies are interested in what we are doing, and whether it's successful," says Verkuil. "They're watching us and consulting with us, and we hope to convince them of the benefits.

Developing the country's exploration and production industry will ultimately result in reductions of cost and an increased availability of material and equipment in Ukraine. Pioneering new technologies is a time-consuming and bureaucratic process in Ukraine, where it involves importing all new machinery and spare parts and diverging from standard approved practices. The lack of any servicing infrastructure in the country is another drawback.

However, Verkuil says these are problems that should diminish going forward. Among the advantages of Ukraine is the gas production infrastructure, with huge storage facilities and a developed pipeline network, and customers located in close proximity to the gasfields. Regal feeds its gas directly into the Kursk-Kiev trunk pipeline and has closed a field-life contract with London-listed iron ore producer Ferrexpo, which has agreed to buy all Regal's gas over roughly the next 20 years.

Regal invested $48m in the first half of 2009 to boost gas production 156% in the second half to approximately 3,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boe/d). Even when complete, this will only comprise two new generation wells online, with a third currently being drilled. This is small beer; the long-term plan is to spend $1.6bn and drill 95 wells over the next decade, raising output to a plateau of 40,000 boe/d by 2017. This would make Regal the country's third-largest gas producer.

Until now, though, the record of foreign investment in Ukraine's oil and gas industry has been chequered, with a number of scandals and false dawns. But with the investment conditions now more favourable, Regal sees itself in the vanguard of what will be a stream of transparent and professional private investors.

This is exemplified by Regal's ability to raise the finance it needs. "We need $400m, and have raised $300m in equity over the last two years," says CEO Greer. "We were originally planning $200m in equity financing and $200m in debt, but things weren't looking good for debt earlier this year when the world was stood on its head, so we went for a share issue instead, and raised $100m. But things have changed significantly since then, so that we now hope to raise the additional $100m we need in debt. And even this does not happen, we will carry on regardless, turning cash positive in 2011."

There was a swirl of takeover rumours early in the year, with Russia's TNK-BP and Lukoil named. "There were Russian and also further Eastern offers," confirms Greer, "but it was bottom-feeding after the market collapse, and our share price has recovered significantly since then. We are open only to reasonable proposals."

By Graham Stack. Published on 18 November 2009
Copyright (c) 2009. bne. Reprinted with the permission of Business New Europe
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Council Conclusions on Belarus

2974th EXTERNAL RELATIONS Council meeting
Brussels, 17 November 2009

The Council adopted the following conclusions:

" 1. The Council notes that since October 2008, as a result of the release of internationally recognised political prisoners, new possibilities have opened up for dialogue and deepened cooperation between the EU and Belarus. The Council welcomes the increased high-level EU–Belarus political dialogue, the establishment of a Human Rights Dialogue, the intensified technical cooperation and the participation of Belarus in the Eastern Partnership, as ways of building mutual understanding and creating opportunities to address issues of concern.

2. The Council recalls its Conclusions of 13 October 2008, and the areas of concern identified therein, including the need for progress towards reforms of the Electoral Code to bring it into line with OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections, the freedom of expression and of the media, and the freedom of assembly and political association. After a number of encouraging decisions taken earlier in these areas, the Council deeply regrets the recent lack of significant progress in addressing its concerns in the area of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including as regards the crackdown on peaceful political actions and the continued denial of registration of many political parties, nongovernmental organisations and independent media. The Council furthermore regrets the recent death sentences in Belarus and urges Belarus to introduce a moratorium on the death penalty, as an interim step leading to the early abolition of the death penalty.

3. Due to the absence of tangible progress in the areas identified in the Council Conclusions of 13 October 2008, the Council is not able to lift the restrictive measures in place against certain officials of Belarus. Therefore, it decides to extend until October 2010 the restrictive measures provided for by Common Position 2006/276 CFSP, as extended by Common Position 2009/314/CFSP. However, in order to encourage progress in the areas identified by the EU, the Council decides at the same time to extend the suspension of the application of the travel restrictions imposed on certain officials of Belarus, in accordance with the terms set out in Council Common Position 2009/314/CFSP, until October 2010. At the end of that period, the Council will review the restrictive measures in the light of the situation in Belarus. The Council may decide to reapply or lift travel restrictions at any time, in light of actions by the Belarusian authorities in the sphere of democracy and human rights.

4. The Council recalls the Joint Declaration of the Prague Eastern Partnership Summit on 7 May 2009 and welcomes the constructive and active participation of Belarus in the Eastern Partnership. In this context, and recognising the importance of enhanced people-to-people contacts, the Council invites the Commission to prepare recommendations in view of obtaining negotiating directives on visa facilitation and readmission agreements with Belarus, taking into account the common approach on visa facilitation, the recent evaluation of the existing visa facilitation agreements, as well as the findings of a technical expert mission to Belarus, and with a view to the possible adoption of these negotiating directives once relevant conditions are met.

5. The European Union reaffirms its readiness to deepen its relations with Belarus in light of further developments in Belarus towards democracy, human rights and the rule of law and to assist the country in attaining these objectives. Subject to progress in Belarus in these areas, the Council stands ready to take steps towards upgrading contractual relations with Belarus. Meanwhile, the Council invites the Commission to make a proposal for a joint interim plan to set priorities for reforms, inspired by the Action Plans developed in the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy, to be implemented with Belarus.

6. In due time, the Council will review EU policy towards Belarus, in line with the above. In case of positive developments, the Council would respond accordingly.

7. In light of its engagement policy with Belarus, and in order to support the development of a democratic and pluralist environment, the European Union will further intensify its cooperation with the Belarusian civil society, including in the framework of the Eastern Partnership."

'Pragmatic' EU To Keep Belarus Sanctions In Suspension

EU foreign ministers are set to announce that the bloc will extend for another year its dual approach in dealing with Belarus, applying sanctions on the one hand, but simultaneously suspending them on the other.

A draft EU declaration, seen by RFE/RL, says the bloc will maintain the sanctions -- mainly travel bans leveled against top Belarusian officials, which were first imposed in the wake of the country's flawed March 2006 presidential elections, and then suspended in large part in October 2008. The policy is expected to be made formal on November 17, on the second day of a two-day foreign ministers meeting in Brussels.

But even as it maintains the status quo in its relationship with Minsk, the EU is prepared to offer some encouragement as well. Brussels is offering Belarus talks on easing EU visa rules, as well as the more distant prospect of negotiating a new bilateral cooperation accord.

The decision was all but made official this morning by the EU external relations commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, who spoke ahead of the EU foreign ministers' discussions on Belarus.

"On the one hand, the sanctions are going on. But on the other hand, their suspension means that there is a balance between encouragement and recognition that, still, too little has been done to promote reforms," Ferrero-Waldner said.

Little Improvement

The text of the EU decision paints a balanced picture of Belarus's progress -- and lack thereof -- since the bloc's stick-and-carrot policy was put in place a year ago.

The decision to relax EU sanctions on Belarus was made in October 2008, in the wake of the Russia-Georgia war. At the time, the EU feared Russia might attempt to bring other neighbors under its sway. EU overtures to Belarus followed, and the country was invited to join the EU's Eastern Partnership in April this year.

In recounting Belarus's recent advances, the EU welcomed the release of political prisoners and Minsk's agreement to participate in various kinds of dialogue with Brussels, including talks on the human rights situation in the country.

EU officials have also welcomed steps by Minsk to introduce a degree of media freedom and the willingness of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime to take international advice on electoral reform.

The new EU statement, due to be formally adopted on November 17, says there needs to be more progress in bringing Belarus's electoral laws in line with international standards. Freedom of expression, assembly, and political association must also be strengthened.

The declaration notes that there has been little "recent" progress, and "regrets" continued crackdowns on peaceful political protests and the continued refusal by the authorities to register "many political parties, nongovernmental organizations, and independent media."

Belarusian authorities refuse to register Belarusian Christian Democracy, an opposition political party created in February 2009.

On October 16 in Minsk, police cracked down on a demonstration of solidarity with the families of disappeared politicians in Belarus. All of the participants in the demonstration were herded by policemen onto a bus and detained; some of them were harshly beaten.

The EU statement also notes with regret recent death sentences imposed in Belarus. In the most recent case, the Belarusian Supreme Court in October rejected an appeal from Andrey Zhuk to commute the death sentence imposed on him earlier this year. It is estimated that since 1997, Belarus has executed more than 160 people sentenced to death.

Tentative Offer

The EU declaration also includes a promise that travel restrictions on top Belarusian officials could be lifted "at any time, in light of actions by the Belarusian authorities in the sphere of democracy and human rights." However, the statement also makes it clear the reverse also applies -- the continued suspension of the ban is conditional on Minsk's willingness to cooperate with the EU.

Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner said she strongly hopes the Belarusian authorities will accept the EU's gesture of "pragmatic" goodwill.

"I hope that Belarus will use that, will take it up, and I also hope that these reform plans indeed can provide good incentives for more moves toward democracy in Belarus and reflect [the] somewhat more pragmatic [EU] approach for which I myself particularly have always [pressed]," she said.

Ferrero-Waldner said "some" EU member states continue to feel Belarus has done too little to deserve more EU concessions. This is a reference to behind-the-scenes discussions in Brussels over the past few weeks that accompanied the drafting of the new statement. During these discussions, Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece, and a few other countries arguing for a thaw in EU-Belarus relations lined up against Britain and the Netherlands.

The outcome is a compromise where the sanctions and their suspension are both extended for their maximum term and a highly tentative offer is held out to Minsk to begin talks on visa liberalization. Also, the EU for the first time is formally testing the waters with regard to a negotiating a new cooperation treaty with Minsk.

Meanwhile, the EU is offering a "joint interim plan to set priorities for reforms, inspired by the action plans developed in the framework of the European Neighborhood Policy."

This compromise appears to enjoy the tacit support of Poland, Belarus's closest EU neighbor. Jacek Protasiewicz, a European Parliament deputy, said on November 13 the parliament's delegation for EU-Belarus relations supports the ministers' two-pronged approach.

Protasiewicz said it was too early to lift the sanctions altogether, but also noted their suspension is necessary for further advances in EU-Belarusian relations.

"There is still a chance for some changes, for some reforms, as well as introducing a new area of cooperation between the European Union and the Belarusian people -- not only the Belarusian authorities -- particularly [when it comes to ] the visa regime," Protasiewicz said.

"If the sanctions are, once again, imposed, there [will be] no chance of having a PCA [Partnership and Cooperation Agreement] or any kind of legal agreement between the European Union and Belarus on which basis we could build a new, more liberalized visa regime for Belarusian citizens."

Protasiewicz said that the current situation where Belarusians have to pay nearly twice as much for Schengen visas to the EU as Moldovans, Ukrainians, and Russians, is "very unfair."

By Ahto Lobjakas. Published on 16 November 2009
Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Council Of Europe Head 'Very Concerned' About Human Rights In Azerbaijan

A Baku court this week sentenced two young Azerbaijani bloggers, Adnan Hajizada and Emin Milli, to two and 2 1/2 years in prison on hooliganism charges, in a case that has brought international attention to declining media freedoms in the oil-rich South Caucasus state.

Western governments and international organizations like the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have strongly condemned the case against Milli and Hajizada.

Kenan Aliyev and Anna Zamejc of RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service discussed the issue with Thorbjorn Jagland, the secretary-general of the Council of Europe.

RFE/RL: You were very critical regarding the arrest of the bloggers. Were you surprised at the verdict and sentences?

Thorbjorn Jagland: I would say yes and no. We are always surprised when we get that kind of judgment. It was about something that did not take place. They were accused of so-called hooliganism but this was not the background for the judgment, not the fact in this case. Therefore we were of course surprised.

But I have followed the developments in Azerbaijan for quite a long time and therefore I could say that we are not so surprised. We are very concerned about the development with regard to human rights and democracy in Azerbaijan.

RFE/RL: Why does the Council of Europe have these difficulties in holding Azerbaijan accountable to its commitments? How are you going to defend your mission?

Jagland: Well, it's always difficult when member states are not complying with their obligations to the Council of Europe. The only thing we can do is to always remind them about their obligations. We also have monitoring mechanism we can use. Whenever things like this happen, we always have to get authorities to be accountable to what they are doing.

RFE/RL: What can you say against allegations that the Council of Europe is toothless, that it makes deals with member states just like so many other institutions, and that it looks the other way when member states violate its own charter and principles?

Jagland: [The] Council of Europe does not have the means and tools that can change the situation immediately. But we believe that for instance in this case, Azerbaijan's presence in the Council of Europe will [lead it to be] influenced over time.

We have to work slowly with this is and we believe that their presence here is important in order to influence developments there. If it is the other way around, then the question about the membership in the organization will be on the table, of course.

We can only have members in the Council of Europe that are complying with the standards and values of the organization. That does not mean that everybody has to be perfect. But [there] is [a] necessity to comply with the rules, standards, and values that we have and that there going in the right direction. This is how the Council of Europe works.

RFE/RL: For the last two years the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has not had any hearings on Azerbaijan despite the fact that there was a referendum in March that revoked term limits for the presidency and despite the fact that there are still political prisoners in Azerbaijan. Is it time for the Council of Europe to propose special hearings on Azerbaijan in its forthcoming sessions?

Jagland: I cannot talk on behalf of the Parliamentary Assembly because this is an independent body of the Council of Europe and they have to decide what to do. But I think that this case and other cases in the past, show that we need to pay much more attention to developments in Azerbaijan in the Parliamentary Assembly, by the human rights commissioner, and we have also other means that we can use.

The people of Azerbaijan should know that we have the European Court of Human Rights here in Strasbourg to which they can bring their cases.

RFE/RL: Your statement on the bloggers' imprisonment was quite strong. Have you received any response from Baku?

Jagland: We haven't got any reaction yet. I informed the ambassador of Azerbaijan yesterday about my statement and talked to him about it and I asked him to convey this message to the authorities in Baku.

RFE/RL: Do you expect that officials in Baku will listen to your call?

Jagland: Yes. We have the right to expect it. Azerbaijan is a member of the Council of Europe and they are committed to our standards and values. Therefore they should, of course, take seriously what we are conveying to them.

Energy vs Democracy

RFE/RL: You come from Norway, a country that has successfully managed to reconcile oil revenues with democracy. To what extent do rich energy resources hinder democratic development in Azerbaijan?

Jagland: That is difficult for me to assess. What I can say is that it is unacceptable to use that kind of resource as an excuse for not moving in the right direction with regard to human rights and democracy.

Azerbaijan and all the states in Europe should be aware of how important it is to be a part of European values, standards and institutions because that is a precondition to be successful with regard to economy. One cannot only rely on natural resources in the future. That would be a very short-term perspective.

RFE/RL: But many Western states seem to view Azerbaijan only in the context of energy resources. Democratization issues are not raised because Azerbaijan is an important partner in terms of securing energy stability in Europe.

Jagland: That could also be a problem. But the European states, the European bodies, and also the United States are very concerned about the developments in the situation with regard to human rights in Azerbaijan. So, while what you are saying may be true, it is also untrue because we are reacting when things like these happen.

RFE/RL: Next year Azerbaijan will celebrate its 10th anniversary of joining the Council of Europe. Many critics say that Baku's human rights and democracy record have not risen to the standards of the Council of Europe but rather that the Council of Europe has lowered its standards to the level of countries that are violating them. As the secretary-general, are you going to push for reforms to raise the standards of the Council of Europe?

There's no need to change the standards. They are very high. The problem is to get the member states to comply with the standards.

We are all aware of the fact that there are problems in many member states and that's why we have the Council of Europe. It is important to have members like Azerbaijan in the Council of Europe, provided we are able to influence internal developments in the country and provided that they are interested in being assisted by the Council of Europe to go in the right direction.

It cannot be the other way round, that member countries are able to, so to say, undermine the standards and values that the Council of Europe has.

By RFE/RL. Published on 13 November 2009
Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Freedom of expression under pressure in Azerbaijan

Statement by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland

I am concerned about the very harsh sentences imposed by the court in Azerbaijan on Adnan Hadjizadeh and Emin Mili. Shortly before the July incident which resulted in their imprisonment for “hooliganism”, the two young people produced a satirical YouTube video, in which they implicitly criticised the government. This sequence of events will have an inevitable chilling effect on freedom of expression in Azerbaijan.

The authorities should very critically review their attitude towards media and civil society and public criticism in general, and bring it in line with their obligations as a member of the Council of Europe and a party to the European Convention on Human Rights. Freedom of expression is a vital precondition of democracy. Without it there is no freedom, no creativity, no good ideas, no good solutions and no social progress. What is at stake is not only the freedom of Adnan and Emin, but the freedom and well-being of all people in Azerbaijan.

Council of Europe Press Release: Strasbourg, 12.11.2009

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Interview: Moldovan Presidential Hopeful Says 'There Is Still Time'

Moldovan lawmakers this week tried and failed to elect a new president. The Communist opposition boycotted a vote after the ruling Alliance for European Integration nominated Democratic Party leader and former Communist parliament speaker Marian Lupu.

Now legislators must make one more attempt to elect a head of state in the next month, and a failure to choose a president would automatically trigger another round of national legislative elections next year -- in the wake of two inconclusive elections this year. In the meantime, the political stalemate is threatening to sink the country's battered economy.

RFE/RL Russian Service contributor Irina Severin spoke with Lupu about the prospects for finding a way out of the crisis.

RFE/RL: How do things stand now with the presidential election?

Marian Lupu: The situation is not simple, and the crisis is continuing. We will see how the second round of the presidential election -- which must be held before December 10 -- will go. There is still time. There is still a chance to continue a dialogue among all the parliamentary forces -- so that in the future we can try to find a political consensus, a compromise that must, in my opinion, be based on some balance of the rights and responsibilities of the authorities, of the ruling structures, on the one hand, and those of the parliamentary opposition on the other.

This is the framework within which this dialogue must be conducted. And it will definitely be undertaken -- the stakes are very high for the government. If parliament cannot elect a head of state before December 10, then there will be repeat parliamentary elections, which most likely will be held before the end of 2010.

The consequences of such a situation would be rather alarming, in my opinion. Alarming on the sociopolitical level, because there remains some uncertainty, some sense that the mission of the political class isn't completed, that the expectations of society have not been fulfilled. There is a mood that, in my opinion, could lead to a loss of public confidence, a loss of the electorate's faith in the political class as a whole, in the functioning of democratic institutions, the institutions of power.

The Urgency Of Consensus

RFE/RL: And how will it impact the economic situation?

Lupu: It won't help the economic situation. The current power structures -- I mean primarily the government -- will take on a caretaker status with the knowledge that their mandate will end with the next parliamentary elections.

This would mean a cardinal change in the content of our dialogue with external partners on development issues. At present this is a crucially important matter, because the economic crisis is hitting Moldova very hard. Its consequences are quite dramatic. And there is only one optimal, quick, way out of this situation, and that is the attraction of massive external financing and technical assistance from our eastern and western partners.

And, of course, when our external partners find themselves sitting down with temporary structures in Moldova, then there can be no talk of even medium-term -- to say nothing of long-term -- perspectives. We need to do absolutely everything within the framework that I laid out earlier to arrive at a consensus. We must achieve the consolidated responsibility of all parliamentary parties so that a head of state can be elected.

RFE/RL: Do the Communists understand the depth of the crisis? We all remember that up until the last moment, they were claiming there was no crisis.

Lupu: I think they understand it perfectly well. They understand perfectly all the possible consequences. But the Communist Party has nonetheless decided not to put the national interests first, as the Democratic Party, among others, did in 2005. They have placed personal interests first -- the interests of certain people and certain groups within the Communist Party -- in order to create a scenario in which to solve their more narrow problems.

Lessons From Moldova's Past

RFE/RL: People look at 2005 as a precedent. Back then, the Democratic Party and others voted for the Communist candidate for president, Vladimir Voronin. Do the Communists remember that? Is it possible to have a dialogue with them?

Lupu: In various discussions with representatives of the Communist Party, some of our colleagues have said, "Listen. In 2005, we voted for you, so now it is payback time."

But if you are talking seriously, then of course this precedent cannot be forgotten. Even the political configuration back then was quite similar to what we have now. Then, the Communists had 56 mandates and the other parliamentary parties had 45. Now, we have 53 and they have 48 -- the difference is rather small. Back then, we weren't even talking about the distribution of ministries or about including representatives of other parties in the makeup of the government.

Back then, the opposition conducted itself very moderately and in a very civilized fashion. I would even say, in a European manner. We were discussing the priorities of domestic and foreign policy -- where was the Republic of Moldova headed? What kind of economic, social, and foreign policies should be adopted? And, on the basis of these consultations and negotiations, a decision was made to proceed and elect a head of state.

I think that the experience of 2005 definitely demonstrated a high degree of political responsibility and political maturity. I think that it is precisely these qualities that the Communists are lacking. A democratic system presupposes the possibility of rotation from election to election. We must all be prepared for this if we are a genuine democracy.

'Responsibility And Consolidation'

RFE/RL: Recent events seem to show that Moldova's political system is imperfect. How can the country escape from this situation?

Lupu: The current political system does not have a mechanism for unblocking such crisis situations, and this is hampering the development of the country rather badly. That is why I am listening to the opinions of those experts who say it is possible that the modifications to the constitution adopted in 2000 were not timely.

Experience is showing us that the political class and society have not yet reached the necessary level of general and political culture, a level of responsibility and consolidation, in a manner of speaking. We certainly must think about creating such mechanisms.

I support the opinion that we should return to direct national presidential elections. This work is waiting for us. It is essential. If we are not able to elect a president and if there are more legislative elections, the first thing we must do in parliament is begin preparing a package of constitutional changes.

By RFE/RL. Published on 12 November 2009
Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Swine Flu Follies: A Regional Roundup Of Reactions (And Overreactions) To Virus's Spread

As the swine-flu virus continues to spread through the Balkans and the former Soviet Union, the measures taken by some governments range from bizarre and befuddled to possibly political.

Moldova: Add Politics And Stir

In Moldova, which has 269 confirmed H1N1 cases and four reported swine-flu deaths, health officials on November 9 closed schools and universities for a week. The timing of the closure prompted speculation that the country's university students would capitalize on their sudden free time by turning out to protest the parliament's failure today to elect pro-Western candidate Marian Lupu as president.

Do flu and politics mix? Moldovan Health Minister Vladimir Hotineanu didn't exactly say no.

"Some politicians can make politics [out of the flu] -- the ones who aren't too honest," Hotineanu said. "But I want to stress that here in Moldova, we have to avoid letting the social situation from getting out of control. We don't want to spread panic, that's the most important thing."

Belarus: Swine Flu Skeptics

Despite his country's proximity to Ukraine, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is, for now, a swine-flu skeptic. Speaking in Kyiv during a November 5 news conference with Viktor Yushchenko, the Belarusian leader accused pharmaceutical companies of fanning the flames of flu hysteria in order to drive up profits.

"I know very well what is going on in this super-corrupt, gangster circle of medicine producers," Lukashenka said.

Sales of swine-flu vaccinations and treatments have been brisk, the president speculated, adding that pharmaceutical companies "today squeal like swine. Tomorrow, perhaps, they'll purr like cats or moo like cows."

There are currently 128 confirmed cases of swine flu in Belarus. A handful of deaths have been attributed to pneumonia.

Ukraine: Monkey Flu!

Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko says that country's swine flu epidemic is stabilizing and that registered flu cases have dropped sharply.

Still, with 32,500 registered cases and 155 deaths from respiratory ailments including swine flu, Ukraine remains the site of the largest H1N1 outbreak in continental Europe.

And concerns are growing that the virus could affect more than just Ukraine's human population.

Monkeys at the Kharkiv Zoo are being isolated from human visitors out of fear they will contract the virus. The monkeys are also receiving a special vitamin-fortified diet designed to boost their immune systems. In addition to regular bananas, they are being treated to raspberry compote, tea with lemon, fish oil, and dried fruit.

Kharkiv zoo director Oleksiy Hryhoryev said the monkeys are all healthy but that they can suffer human-like symptoms when they contract a respiratory ailment.

"Just like people, a monkey can get watery eyes and suffer from joint pain," Hryhoryev said. "You can see this from its behavior -- it gets a fever and becomes thirsty, and has difficulty breathing. You can see all these symptoms without even taking its temperature."

Russia: Who Was That Un-Masked Man?

Authorities have imposed a "mask regime" in Russia's Far East region of Khabarovsk, where more than 318 cases of swine flu have been reported.

Transportation and food-service workers are now required to wear surgical masks at all times while on the job.

And since no regime is complete without the threat of punitive measures, a hefty fine has been imposed as well -- managers who fail to keep their staff masked must pay $17 per violation, their supervisors can pay up to $130, and the companies can be charged $640 overall.

The program appears to be generating revenue for someone: Out of 52 local companies, un-masked employees were nabbed at 25.

Chechnya: All Clear!

Health officials in Chechnya say there have been no registered cases of swine flu in the North Caucasus republic.

The clean bill of health comes as swine flu cases continue to grow in other Russian republics and regions.

As of November 3, there were three registered cases in North Ossetia, 12 in Daghestan, 30 in Kalmykia, and 11 in Stavropol Krai.

Chechen officials have dismissed as unsubstantiated reports that a medical student infected with H1N1 recently returned to Chechnya from Moscow. But officials say swine-flu vaccines are available to people traveling outside the republic, with the priority going to pilgrims planning to participate in this year's hajj.

Azerbaijan: The Business Angle

Remember bird flu? Azerbaijanis do -- as a bonanza for government agencies eager to capitalize on the scare.

The World Bank allotted $5.1 million to Azerbaijan for its battle against avian flu, which claimed its first human victim in the Caspian country in 2006. Of that, just $3.6 million was transferred to the Health and Agriculture ministries to fight the pandemic -- leaving Azerbaijanis to speculate what might have happened to the remaining $1.5 million.

This time around, the government has promised to provide free swine-flu vaccines but has yet to receive any stocks.

Private clinics, meanwhile, have adopted the entrepreneurial spirit, offering flu vaccines for $30 apiece -- an extravagance in a country where the average monthly salary is just $380.

The price of face masks, likewise, has risen as much as fivefold.

Azerbaijan this week confirmed its first case of swine flu, in a woman who recently returned to the country from Ukraine.

Serbia: Vaccinate Now! Or Whenever You Get Around To It...

Belgrade last week announced it was setting up an emergency fund to finance the purchase of 3 million swine-flu vaccines.

Health Minister Tomica Milosavljevic promised that vaccinations would be available to every citizen requesting one by mid-December. Since then, however, Serbia's vaccination drive appears to have shifted into low gear.

So far, only one pharmaceutical company has submitted a bid to the Serbian tender -- the Swiss firm Novartis, which says it can provide only a half-million vaccines, and only 25 days after the deal is signed.

The remaining 2.5 million doses would come only in mid-March.

"Maybe the minister didn't know the order of events. Or maybe the tender committee met later than he thought. Or maybe he just said what he wanted to be true," Doctor Milena Jaukovic, the director of the Urgent care center in Belgrade, said. "But the reality is different."

Serbian officials have reportedly decided to hold off on declaring a state of emergency, which could allow health officials to ease out of their pledge for an immediate vaccination drive.

Serbia currently has 258 registered cases of swine flu; seven H1N1 deaths have been confirmed.

Turkmenistan: Flu Of A Different Feather

A well-intentioned but apparently misguided attempt by Turkmen authorities to inform citizens about the risks of swine flu has ended, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported on November 5.

In October, correspondents in Ashgabat and in the Mary and Lebab provinces reported that one-page leaflets explaining flu symptoms and preventative measures were being distributed among the population.

The hitch was that the leaflets -- which advised people with symptoms to check their temperature, stay in bed, and to take nonprescription flu medications -- discussed bird flu, not swine flu.

By RFE/RL. Published on 10 November 2009
Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Monday, November 9, 2009

OSCE Chairmanship encourages renewal of formal negotiations on Transdniestrian settlement

The Greek Alternate Foreign Minister, Dimitris Droutsas, encouraged participants in the 5+2 format to renew formal negotiations on a Transdniestrian settlement during a meeting held in Vienna today.

Minister Droutsas had convened an informal meeting of the "5+2", which is composed of the Moldovan and Transdniestran Sides, as well as the Russian Federation, Ukraine and the OSCE, as Mediators, and the European Union and the United States as Observers. Formal negotiations in this format have been stalled since March 2006.

"The Greek Chairmanship strongly supports the efforts of the Mediators and Observers of the '5+2' format and calls on the Sides to negotiate, without preconditions, in good faith and result-oriented spirit, to conclude a comprehensive, lasting, mutually acceptable political agreement resolving the conflict," the Minister said.

Participants at the meeting discussed ways of removing obstacles to the renewal of negotiations on a comprehensive political settlement of the conflict. They agreed on the necessity for an intensified dialogue to resolve outstanding issues.

The participants reiterated their support for the organization of an OSCE-sponsored seminar on Co-operation between the Law Enforcement Bodies of both Sides, that will be held on the 8 and 9 of November in Moldova.

Press Release: OSCE, Vienna. Published on 6 November 2009

Friday, November 6, 2009

KYIV BLOG: 12m Ukrainians could be infected with flu by end of 2010

After bne's initial scepticism about the severity of the flu outbreak in Ukraine, things have taken a turn for the worse.

It seems the virus that's on the loose in Ukraine has mutated into a more virulent form, says the World Heath Organisation (WHO). bne was commissioned to write a report on the bird flu virus a few years ago by the WHO and attended the scientific conferences in the Hague ahead of the political meetings to coordinate a response a few months later in Geneva.

The scientists then warned that the danger of these viruses was not the current form, which can kill though isn't particularly lethal, but the fact that this family of "animal" viruses are very unstable and can easily mutate into more contagious and deadly forms; in order to jump across the species divide, the virus has to be almost by definition unstable if it is to be able to adapt itself to attack first an avian or porcine host and then move into humans. Once in humans, the virus continues to adapt and while the avian version never changed into a form that did much damage, the porcine virus seems to have mutated into a more contagious form in Ukraine, albeit not particularly deadly yet.

The WHO said on Wednesday, November 4 that the strain of the porcine virus affecting Ukraine "has been caused by the H1N1 pandemic flu subtype."

"Laboratory testing in Ukraine has confirmed pandemic H1N1 influenza virus in samples taken from patients in two of the most affected regions," the WHO said in a statement, reported newswires. "As the pandemic virus has rapidly become the dominant influenza strain worldwide, it can be assumed that most cases of influenza in Ukraine are caused by the H1N1 virus."

Ukraine's health ministry reported on the same day that the death toll had risen to 81 as of this week and Ukrainian chief public health official Oleksandr Bilovol said up to 12m citizens could be infected with the virus by the end of next year. "Taking into account susceptibility to the pandemic flu virus, there is a general indicator of the number of patients, which we have calculated based on WHO recommendations and which could amount to 25% of the entire population," Bilovol said. "About 12m people will be down."

About 1% out of the 12m patients in Ukraine will require hospitalization, and some 18,000 people will have to be put in intensive care, Bilovol predicted.

Ukraine has already recorded more than 250,000 cases of influenza-like illness, with 235 patients requiring intensive care, the WHO said. Ukraine's authorities put the number infected at much higher, saying the number of those officially diagnosed with flu or other acute viral infections in Ukraine reached 450,000 as of November 4, Bilovol said.

"Regions in western Ukraine continue to show the highest rates of acute respiratory illness/influenza-like illness. The level of activity in the Kyiv area is also increasing rapidly," the WHO said. "As elsewhere, WHO strongly recommends early treatment with the antiviral drugs, oseltamivir or zanamivir, for patients who meet treatment criteria, even in the absence of a positive laboratory test confirming H1N1 infection."

Going viral

The scientists in the Hague say that once the virus has mutated into a highly infectious form there is little a country can do to prevent the spread and there is little neighbours can do to prevent it crossing the border. Russia is already reporting an outbreak of the virus in Buratiya, in central Russia.

A computer model developed by virology experts at the University of London showed that borders were impossible to close and even countries surrounded by sea cannot prevent the virus entering the country. Even banning travel completely and closing the borders completely will only slow the entry of the virus into an unaffected country by up to one week. On Wednesday, November 4, WHO reaffirmed this point, insisting on its recommendation that no borders should be closed and no restrictions on international travel should be imposed, including in relation to Ukraine. "Experience shows that such measures will not stop further spread of the virus," it said.

Likewise, quarantine or isolating patients doesn't work either. Experience has shown that all quarantine does is increase the infection rate. Infected people are isolated, but they are usually isolated together with their family and others that they are in close contact with, many of whom have not been infected. The result of concentrating people who are both ill and healthy is that more healthy people become infected. As no quarantine is perfect, the denser infection rates leads to a more rapid transmission of the virus.

Happily, the good news is that from the appearance of a virus it usually takes up to six months to develop a vaccine and this period has already passed and a vaccine is already available. Inoculations are the most effective way to bringing a virus under control and this process has already started. Other simple hygiene precautions are also very effective in slowing the spread of the virus such as washing your hands regularly and wearing facemasks in public places.

By BNE. Published on 5 November 2009
Copyright (c) 2009. bne. Reprinted with the permission of Business New Europe
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.