Tuesday, January 26, 2010

In Ukraine, The Beat Goes On .... and On

By Tammy Lynch

Ukraine’s presidential election campaign took an odd turn on Monday, when a printing press responsible for producing ballots was bizarrely raided.

As the video above from Ukrayinska Pravda demonstrates, a group of plain-clothed men smashed windows and pushed through the doors of the printing press – all calmly, quietly and in full view of what appears to be their own personal videographer. They appear to have had no purpose but to enter the building. Interior Ministry troops (loyal to presidential candidate and PM Yulia Tymoshenko) arrived, removed them and detained 22 individuals “who did not enjoy parliamentary immunity.”

Earlier, a group of deputies from candidate Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions had barricaded themselves in the building in response to an attempt by the government to confirm a new director of operations. These deputies can be seen in the video calmly photographing the raid from inside the building. No one in Ukraine appears to know (or is prepared to say) who hired the men.

In other words, this was just an ordinary campaign day in Ukraine.

Complicating the already confusing incident, the Prosecutor-General’s Office now appears to have opened two criminal cases against police officers who were on the scene. Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko suggested that the officers were being charged with assault during the raid. He pointed to the video of the incident (above) showing the officers simply observing the event and called the PGO’s actions “political.” The PGO in the past has been aligned both with President Viktor Yushchenko and Viktor Yanukovych.

International observers have confirmed that they will now monitor the printing of ballots at this particular press, and despite this confusion, independent observers doubt that the ballots will be compromised. Over the last several years, Ukraine’s various parliamentary and government factions have developed a habit of fighting for control of public buildings in Kyiv.

Unlike the country’s often violent “corporate raids” conducted by one group of stockholders against another with the employees in the middle, the political battles usually end in stalemates with everyone heading home.

In fact, the political battles, as well as fights within the parliament chamber itself, normally serve as interesting but unproductive diversions from the seemingly never-ending political campaigns that Ukrainians have endured since 2004.

The current campaign in advance of the February 7 election run-off is proceeding in a typically chaotic manner, as PM Yulia Tymoshenko tries to find some way to erase the 10 point lead earned by her challenger in the first round.

Viktor Yanukovych seems to be sitting pretty, protecting his lead while staying as far away as possible from tough questions, complicated situations, and challenger Tymoshenko.

Since the election, Yanukovych has found himself unable to express a position on protecting Ukraine’s lucrative gas pipeline system – lurching from a curious idea to help Russia build two pipelines bypassing Ukraine, to a plan to create a Gazprom-led consortium to control Ukraine’s domestic pipes.

He has refused to say whether he will enforce Ukraine’s agreement with Russia that the Black Sea Fleet must leave by 2017 – although in the past he has said the agreement is negotiable. And he has steadfastly refused to debate Tymoshenko – suggesting she should instead “demonstrate her whims in the kitchen.”

While he cannot be forced to state clear opinions on the gas and BSF issues, of course, it appears that his last request will not be headed. Tymoshenko will not be forced into her kitchen. The Central Election Commission on Monday ruled that the candidates must debate on February 1 – if the building is secure, that is.

Tammy can be found @TammyLynch on twitter.

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