Storm breaks over Ukraine

US Secretary of State Powell, British Foreign Secretary Straw and European Commission President Barroso swiftly took the side of the demonstrators in Kiev, protesting at the declaration of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych as winner of Ukraine’s 21 November presidential elections. Powell said the US did not accept the results of the election and warned of the consequences if the Ukrainian government did not act quickly. Russian president Putin congratulated Yanukovych before the results were announced. Powell visited the Ukraine during the election campaign and Putin visited twice to support Yanukovych. Writing in The Guardian (25 November 2004) Timothy Garton Ash declared for the demonstrators and said that Ukraine was on ‘the front line of the forward march of freedom’. As we go to press the Supreme Court has suspended the result of the election.

Powell, Straw and Barroso support opposition leader Viktor Yuschenko. Yuschenko is a former head of the National Bank of Ukraine and his associates include those who benefited from the privatisation of Ukraine’s industry. Yuschenko wants closer ties with the European Union (EU) and an open market economy. He said he wants Ukraine’s troops withdrawn from Iraq. Yanukovych seeks closer relations with Russia and received strong support from Ukraine’s Russian population, located mainly in the east of the country. The industrial workers and miners of the east see in the former German Democratic Republic what Yuschenko’s programme offers them: unemployment and poverty.

 

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Russia and Ukraine - Regional tensions

Russia stopped supplying gas to Ukraine on 1 January and a week later stopped all supplies to Europe passing through Ukraine. Russia accused Ukraine of stealing gas intended for other European countries. Supplies resumed on 20 January when the Ukrainian government agreed to pay a higher price for the energy.

About one fifth of the European Union’s gas supplies are piped from Russia across the Ukraine. Bulgaria receives 80% of its gas from Russia, Austria 70%, Germany 30% and Italy 17%. In the midst of freezing temperatures Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Hungary, Macedonia, Serbia and Greece were particularly hit by the shut down. Slovakia declared a state of ‘energy emergency’ and the French Peugeot-Citroen car factory was closed. There were demonstrations against Russia in several countries. British Prime Minister Brown declared: ‘No nation can be allowed to exert an energy stranglehold over Europe.’ Mighty fine words, but Britain does not import gas from Russia and so bombast was a luxury he could afford.

 

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