Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 7
21 February 2000

Ukraine NewsC E N T R A L   E U R O P E A N   N E W S:
News Review for Ukraine
All the important news from Ukraine
since 12 February 2000

Natalya Krasnoboka

For Ukrainians, last week passed under the rapt attention of the international organisations involved in Ukraine's political, economic, administrative, military and educational spheres. The Council of Europe, the European Union, NATO and the International Monetary Fund have all simultaneously sent their missions to Kyiv.

The decision of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly to send its envoys to Ukraine came in response to the official request of several members of the Ukrainian Parliament, from the left-wing minority parties, asking the Council to check the legitimacy of a constitutional referendum planned for 16 April. Earlier this year, President Leonid Kuchma provoked a political crisis when he signed a decree to hold a nationwide referendum that could introduce major constitutional changes, including granting the President the right to disband Parliament if it fails to form a majority within a month and a budget within three and reducing the number of seats in Parliament from 450 to 300 and splitting it into two houses. The referendum is also to include a vote of no confidence in Parliament. The Council of Europe's mission is busy checking all relevant issues pertaining to the referendum. A final decision will be presented by the Venetian Commission in March. Hanne Severinsen, a reporter from the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly has invited president Kuchma to participate in a PACE session in Strasbourg in early April at which results of the Venetian Commission will be discussed. If the Council declares the constitutional referendum illegitimate, PACE representatives hope that Ukraine will agree with the decision. Otherwise, the Council of Europe will reserve the right to implement sanctions against the country. Meanwhile, according to Radio Free Europe, a late January poll showed that 76 percent of Ukrainians wanted to take part in the referendum, and if the plebiscite were held now, all the questions would be supported by more than 50 percent of those intending to vote.

The International Monetary Fund flew into Kyiv on 14 February and entered a "brewing scandal over Ukraine's alleged misuse of money previously lent by the fund," wrote the Ukrainian weekly Kiev Post. Before its mission, the IMF had asked the Ukrainian government to investigate information provided by the Financial Times about the misuse of foreign loans by the Central Bank of Ukraine. "Ukrainian officials deny that the government has breached its agreement with the IMF and placed reserves in high-risk ventures," Kiev Post reported. Prime Minister Victor Yuschenko characterised the current negotiations between Ukraine and the IMF as very complicated, which is understandable as Ukraine faces USD 3.1 billion in foreign debt, which has to be paid this year. Hence the country desperately needs IMF credit. Cooperation between the IMF and Ukraine began two years ago with the introduction of a program of broad financial support. This program was halted last autumn, because Ukraine did not follow its obligations. Now, Ukraine faces a new wave of the IMF's dissatisfaction.

NATO representatives came to Ukraine to participate in an international meeting on the reform of Ukraine's armed forces. Ukraine is faced with the practical necessity of military reform. Recent events in Yugoslavia and Russia have forced the country to make a rapid decision about the future of the Ukrainian army and Ukraine's military policy in general. This is the main topic of discussion at the international meeting in Kiev between representatives of NATO and Ukrainian high military and governmental officials. As Evhen Marchuk, head of the National Security Council, said: "The main goal of the reforms in the Ukrainian military is the implementation of the West European model of the armed forces." Unfortunately, in its move toward reform Kyiv has to watch Moscow's reaction to any possible changes within Ukraine. Ukraine's decision-making process is heavily dependent on Russia's position, which is not only Ukraine's strategic and economic partner and its most powerful neighbour but also a country that possesses nuclear weapons. Another important issue is the recent agreement on a Russia-Belarus union, which could begin to affect the geopolitical situation in Eastern Europe very soon.

The European Union is starting a new project in Ukraine in the area of higher education. The EU's TACIS program (geared primarily at Eastern Europe) will expand its activities in Ukraine. According to the new plan, Ukrainian universities will have better and wider opportunities to make contacts with their counterparts in Western Europe. Although many steps have already been taken by the European Union in order to enrich contacts between West European universities and academic and scientific institutions in the former Soviet republics, Ukraine still suffers from great isolation from the international scientific and academic community. The primary goal of the new program is to create a database of Ukrainian universities and those Western institutions and funders which would be interested in closer cooperation with their Ukrainian colleagues.

Despite any challenges posed by its future political fate, Ukraine continues to be the focus of Russian attention. The adoption of the agreement on a Russia-Belarus union and the future presidential campaign in Russia have made Ukraine an attractive springboard for many Russian politicians. This week, Ukraine became an epicentre of Russian political speculation once again. This time concerning promises to take away the Black Sea fleet and the Dynamo-Kyiv football team, as voiced by the vice-speaker of the Russian Duma, Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Till now, neither the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs nor the Russian government have given any proper comments on this issue. Zhirinovsky's statements are perceived by the majority of Ukrainian and Russian officials as no more than populist jokes. It seems that Russian authorities are ready to let the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia make any comments about foreign countries whatsoever in order to keep him as far as possible from the internal affairs of the Kremlin; however, the official Ukrainian position cannot be so indulgent. The political insignificance of Zhirinovsky may have been possible several years ago, when he tried to make a political career on the basis of his scandalous reputation and charismatic populism. In those days, he was just one out of many Russians unsatisfied with the collapse of the Russian Empire; today, however, he is an official representative of the Russian legislative authorities and has to be treated accordingly. Unfortunately, the suggestion of Olexander Moroz, leader of the Ukrainian Socialist Party, to give an adequate evaluation of the anti-Ukraine speech of the Duma's vice-speaker has not been heard by Ukrainian politicians.

Natalya Krasnoboka, 18 February 2000



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