Global News Journal

Beyond the World news headlines

Post card from Ukraine

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This is one in a series of post cards from Reuters reporters across Europe, Middle East and Africa

Ukraine’s famous instability, verbose politicians and haphazard legislation present the investor – and the journalist – many red herrings. While talk of impeachment of President Viktor Yushchenko ring alarm bells, constitutionally it is nonsense. As CDSs go off the rails, Ukraine’s sovereign debt repayments are small and manageable. As Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko calls for the central bank governor’s blood, he is still at the helm. And while Yushchenko and Tymoshenko fight like Itchy and Scratchy, the country – to the amazement of some – has yet to collapse. 

Investors inside Ukraine have long known this and with good lawyers have managed to get on with business as the economy driven by steel and grain exports boomed at 7 percent annually since 2000. They follow political events constantly but are less quick to judge, because often their significance appears later or in fact does not exist. Those outside Ukraine overestimate the consistency of its politics. None of the three major parties – Tymoshenko’s, Yushchenko’s or opposition leader Yanukovich’s can be branded liberal, conservative, socialist, pro or anti Russian. Populism and pragmatism – usually at the last minute — are the key policies.

Now a deep economic recession is upon the former Soviet republic and presidential and parliamentary elections will decide the fate of the country. So what to expect? Not revolutions certainly, but as the country gears up to the polls, expect patience to wear thin amongst the population. Expect a dirty campaign allowing for new faces to appear that will get nowhere in the elections but be included in top jobs because of their fresh credentials. Expect continual constitutional change that may settle the question of who has real power — the president or prime minister.  Expect Tymoshenko to put up a fierce fight and Yushchenko to wither away. And expect Russia’s heavy gaze on this all.  

Russia-Ukraine row: up close and personal

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Could it be that the gas dispute between Moscow and Kiev broke out because Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin felt personally slighted by his Ukrainian opposite number, Yulia Tymoshenko?
It may seem far-fetched that two countries would risk leaving half of Europe without gas over something so apparently petty. But a look at the sequence of events that led up to this crisis suggests there just might be something in it.

Rewind back to Oct. 2, and Tymoshenko is meeting Putin at his Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow. It is a lodge in forested parkland where, as a rule, he only invites people on whom he wants to make a good impression.

Always a marriage of convenience in Ukraine?

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Ukraine’s President Yushchenko and Prime Minister Tymoshenko smile during their meeting with local businessmen in KievHe was a suave central banker and she a “gas princess”, a young politician desperate to make her mark. In 1998 Yulia  Tymoshenko, now Ukraine’s prime minister, said she knew her destiny lay with Viktor Yushchenko, who went on to become president.

“We understood that we are a team,” she said at that time.

It’s an assertion Yushchenko disputes — a clash of views that has defined this partnership since they overturned a Soviet-style leadership in the 2004 “Orange Revolution” and vowed a modern, Western future for Ukraine’s 47 million people.

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